This was one of those “wow” moments, one that reached past Antonio Arcanti’s description of his work.
“I’m working on a sculpture of Ronald Reagan,” he said.
But when he unveiled the piece in progress, wow. Maybe more preparation was needed for this moment, because one was suddenly looking into the eyes of the former president.
Not a sculpture but the president, himself. OK, not literally, but that was the feeling here, and a powerful one at that, because Arcanti’s depiction is spot-on.
This was Reagan flashing his familiar smile. No, this was more than that. This was Reagan smiling, showing his teeth. Laughing, actually, and enjoying his time as president of the United States.
Never mind that Arcanti emphasized that this sculpture is far from complete. And never mind that this was only the clay rendering that will serve as the model for the mold from which a bronze bust will be cast.
Sure, the shirt, tie and lapel will be added later, but those were things immediately noticed by the artist.
An onlooker saw only the president.
This, in the end, is Arcanti’s intent. He is a classical sculptor, and his artwork realistically reflects his subjects.
Just as it did at that moment in Arcanti’s Denham Springs workshop.
For not only is Ronald Reagan a work in progress here but also Swedish architect, businessman, diplomat and humanitarian Raoul Wallenberg.
Wallenberg is celebrated for his efforts to rescue almost 100,000 Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary during the Holocaust. The Israeli government recently commissioned Arcanti to sculpt a life-sized figure of Wallenberg for public display.
A museum in California, meantime, has expressed interested in the Reagan bust.
It’s all keeping Arcanti busy, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I am a human rights activist, and I sculpt people who I believe are good and have helped people,” Arcanti said. “Reagan was a good president, and Wallenberg helped to save so many people from the Nazis during World War II.”
He smiled. There’s so much to talk about, but where to begin?
Maybe at the beginning, when Arcanti was born in Naples, Italy. He moved to Florence, where he worked as an export manager. From there, it was to Louisiana, where his sister lived.
“My brother also came here,” Arcanti said. “We both came on green cards, and we have since become American citizens.”
But it was in Italy where his artistic career began. He was 7 years old when he began drawing seriously, and his family encouraged him to pursue his talent. He earned his bachelor’s degree in art from the University of Lyon in France, but he earned master’s degrees in languages from the LSU and the University of New Orleans upon moving to Louisiana.
He’s since earned a doctorate degree in philosophy from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and taught both French and Italian at Southeastern Louisiana University.
And in between, Arcanti has authored several books and recorded three CDs soloing on piano, saxophone and classical guitar. The word “renaissance” comes to mind here.
“But those are stories for another day,” Arcanti said.
He’s also a painter, but he wasn’t talking about that then. His sculptures took the spotlight, sculptures that he casts in bronze or chisels out of marble.
His bronze pieces are limited editions and can be found in collections and public displays throughout the world.
“I don’t even know where some are,” Arcanti said, laughing. “I was making pieces before the internet and digital photography, so I didn’t take any pictures, and I didn’t keep any records of where they went. Which is a shame, because it would be good to know now.”
But he knows where his new Wallenberg commission will be displayed, and he knows the possibilities for the Reagan sculpture.
And he is now focusing on Louisiana personalities.
“I want to do interesting things for Louisiana such as modeling famous Louisiana figures, because Louisiana became home for me, and I like the people,” Arcanti said. “I am a full-time artist now.”
Sometimes the task can be difficult. Now don’t misunderstand, Arcanti isn’t complaining; he’s up for any challenge.
Yet the challenges many times can present challenges of their own, especially when it comes to sculpting historical personalities.
Take Wallenberg, for instance. There is only one known portrait-like photo of the man, which poses a problem when ideally sculptors need either a live model or photographs taken from all angles.
“Sometimes, I am asked to do a portrait with only a small photo,” Arcanti said. “ Since sculpture is tridimensional, to reach the maximum of resemblance, an artist should have close-up photos of the subject taken from every side and in the same period of time, because the features of our faces change with the passing of the years. When I don’t have this, I have to rely on my intuition using common sense to define the profile left, right and back of the personality I am modeling.”
He once did this in Italy, when the mother superior at a local convent asked him to sculpt a bust of her brother by using a small photograph.
“I explained to her that all I had was this small picture, but she wanted me to do it, anyway,” Arcanti said. “I used my intuition, and when I was done, she said, ‘Oh, that’s him.’”
And this was Ronald Reagan in the studio, captured in that moment where he’s just told one of his signature jokes. Filling the room with laughter.
For more on Arcanti, email email@example.com.
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