Places that Matter

Piccirilli Studio (site of)

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Brooklyn Museum, photo by Eleanor Koffler
Brooklyn Museum, photo by Eleanor Koffler
Piccirilli Studio (site of)
Piccirilli Brothers, American Magazine Feb. 1930
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Custom House, photo by Eleanor Koffler
Maine Monument, photo by Eleanor Koffler
Stone carvers' studio that made many famous sculptures
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Place Matters Profile

By Breanne Scanlon

The former Piccirilli studio housed a famed family of Italian immigrant stone carvers and sculptors.

While most New Yorkers are familiar with the artistic works of the Piccirilli Brothers, very few know their name or their story. Giuseppe Piccirilli and his six sons transported their sculpting and carving business from Italy to New York City in the late 19th century. Their works, which include the Maine Monument at Columbus Circle, the lions at the New York Public Library, the pediment of the New York Stock Exchange, and the Firemen's Monument in Riverside Park, have become enduring symbols of New York City for residents and visitors alike.

In 1887, sculptor and stone-carver Giuseppe Piccirilli moved from his home in Tuscany, Italy to New York City. He brought with him his wife, daughter, and six sons. He and his sons--Attilio, Furio, Ferrucio, Getulio, Masaniello, and Orazio--who were also trained in sculpting and stone carving, determined to continue the family sculpting and carving business they had started in Italy. Giuseppe and his three oldest sons, Ferruccio, Attilio, and Furio, first worked as stone carvers at Adler's Monument and Granite Works on East 57th Street in Manhattan. After working there for a year and a half, the Piccirillis saved enough money to open their own carving and sculpting studio in a rented stable on Sixth Avenue and 39th Street. In the early phases of American sculpture, relatively few sculptors possessed the training or ability to carve their compositions in marble or stone, and many sent their work abroad to be carved. The sculptor community in New York City was a relatively small one, and word of the Piccirillis' reputation as accomplished stone carvers and sculptors quickly spread. They built their business through carving commissions, but were later able to devote more time to their own original sculpture work.

The Piccirilli's arrival in the US coincided with the start of massive Italian immigration to this country. Many of their countrymen were subjected to vicious forms of prejudice and discrimination. As highly skilled artisans, the Piccirills escaped the worst of this. Their work was essential to the production of the era's monumental buildings and sculptures.

In 1890, Barbara Piccirilli, Giuseppe's wife, fell ill and doctors advised her to move to the country. The entire family moved to 142nd Street, near Willis Avenue, in the Bronx, which was still considered the country at that time. Giuseppe and his sons built two studios near their home. The studios were the largest artist studios in the U.S. when they were built. Each brother had his own working space, but they ate lunch together everyday, frequently entertaining visitors. Over the years, the Piccirillis hosted both groups of schoolchildren and many prominent figures in their studios, including Theodore Roosevelt and Fiorello LaGuardia, who was a close family friend. It was in these studios that Piccirillis did their most important and well-known work.