A Tale of Two Paintings

In November of 1974, I was born. (This isn’t MY story…that’s just a coincidence.)  In that same month, my mother (Nancy Gigliotti) and father (Clem Gigliotti Sr.) opened a restaurant in Belle Vernon, Pennsylvania, called “Gigliotti’s Restaurant.”   Four years later, in kindergarten, I met a girl by the name of Jennifer, and we were close friends all through grade school.  I’m not sure in what year it occurred, and I am not sure how Clem Sr. and Jennifer’s brother met.  It may have been through my friendship with Jennifer, I don’t know.   But at some point, Clem Sr. got in touch with Jennifer’s brother, Keith.   Keith opines, “From what I remember. My parents were always telling others about my talent and one day they met your parents, And so the story begins.”  Clem Sr. commissioned Keith, then a high school student, to paint two “Italian/Venice-themed” paintings.  The price was $200 each, plus the opportunity for Keith and his family to dine at the restaurant “on the house” at any time.  The paintings were hung in the main dining room.   At some point, possibly around 1984, the name of the restaurant was changed to “The Canopy Restaurant,” and underwent a major renovation…but the paintings remained as the focal point of the dining room.   In 1988, the restaurant was closed, and everything in it was auctioned.  Before the auction, however, Clem Sr. took one of the paintings (which is a rendition of the Rialto Bridge in Venice Italy…
and gave it to one of his very best customers, Vincent “Bud” V., who was always admiring the painting when he and his wife came in for dinner.  With graciousness, Mr. V took the painting.  Everything else, including the other painting (informally titled “Two Men In a Boat”)
was then sold at auction.   Several years later, after my father started another business, he and I were working together and were traveling to Pittsburgh for a meeting.  Both of us still lived and worked out of our offices in Monongahela, Pennsylvania.  On the way, we stopped into a restaurant called Napoli, near Brentwood, Pennsylvania.   To our surprise, we discovered “Two Men In a Boat” hanging in the dining room.  I don’t remember the year.  I would guess as early as 2000, maybe?  We talked to the owner, introduced ourselves, and discussed the history of the two paintings.   Sadly, I do not remember how Napoli came into possession of the painting.   At the time, Clem Sr. could only guess that Mr. V still possessed the Rialto painting, but he had not heard from Mr. V since the restaurant closed.  “Two Men in a Boat” hung in the Napoli restaurant until the Spring of 2011, when the restaurant closed.   But in the meantime, around 2002, Clem Sr. received a phone call from the Mrs. V. Sadly, Mr. V had passed away.  Mrs. V reminisced with Clem Sr. about the good times she shared with her husband at the restaurant, and how much Mr. V enjoyed the Rialto painting.  But, unfortunately Mrs. V informed my dad that she was moving to a much smaller apartment and had no space for the painting.  With respect and gratitude, Mrs. V desired to return the Rialto painting to my father.   At the time, of course, my father had no place to hang the painting either.  As I had just moved into a new home that very week, in California, Pennsylvania, my father asked if I would like the Rialto painting.  The painting, to me, was already rich in history and “priceless” from a number of perspectives.  It represented, to me, those years of my childhood spent at the restaurant, a childhood friendship, and a depiction of one of my favorite spots on the globe that I was fortunate enough to have visited in person, as an adult, on two occasions.  I happily accepted the Rialto painting, and it hung in the dining room of my California, Pennsylvania home until I sold the home in 2007.   The Rialto painting was then carefully placed into a storage unit in Monongahela, until such time as I had another permanent home with sufficient wall-space for the painting to return. And in July of 2011, my wife and I purchased a home in Brentwood, PA, and the Rialto painting again graced a wall in my house……less than a mile from its sister painting, “Two Men in a Boat,” which still hung in the Napoli restaurant.  I sought Keith, the artist, and found him thanks to Facebook.  He rememebred the paintings, my family, and some of the story.  He enjoyed hearing of the interesting developments and the fact that less than a mile now seperated the sister-paintings, despite having traveled to many places and passing through several hands.  At various times, I would stop in at Napoli Restaurant and view “Two Men in a Boat.” As late as May of 2010, my wife’s brother, Brian, and his wife Danielle, held their wedding rehearsal dinner at Napoli.  I shared with some of my wife’s family the story of the paintings and their history as I showed them “Two Men In a Boat.”  There must have been a different owner of Napoli, a younger person than the man Clem Sr. and I spoke with back in 2000, and he seemed a bit confused about the history of the painting.  I even recall him making a statement about the artist being his friend…and he then said some name I did not recognize, which was peculiar as I clearly observed “Keith ____” still legible and undisturbed on the canvas.  But as the conversation with this new owner had already taken a number of bizarre turns, I didn’t correct him.   In the Spring of 2011, my wife and I saw that Napoli Restaurant had closed.  I attempted to contact the realtor via email a number of times to inquire of the fate of “Two Men In a Boat.”  It was not necessarily a desire to unite the two paintings.  After all, one might even argue that the paintings seemed to bizarrely be drawn to one another already, without any assistance from me or anyone else.  Though given the opportunity, I would have happily reunited the paintings with no concrete idea  of what I actually would have done with the second large painting.   But more importantly, I sought to acquire “Two Men In a Boat” because I wanted to assure that this history was not lost, that the beautiful artwork was not discarded as some insignificant piece, and guarantee that the piece of my family’s history…..a family whose once-magnificent and successful time-line had been scarred by twists of fate, but also blessed with other positives….that the piece of my family’s history was preserved.   After all, as you can see, the paintings have a story to tell, and I personally think it’s an interesting one.  I never heard back from the realtor. I was only left to guess at the fate of “Two Men in a Boat.”  But in July of 2011, a Facebook message from Keith came, and it described a surprising email he had received earlier that day.  “Hey Clem.  Guess what? I just got an e-mail from a man wanting some information about a painting he aquired that he called “two men in a boat.”  I told him that I could not remember the painting, so I ask him to send me a picture.  To my surprise, it was the Gondolier painting.   It is now hanging in his home.”  To date, the man and I (as well as Keith) have traded some emails and shared some history, as well as created this comprehensive account of the history of the paintings.  It turns out the new owner of “The Gondolier / Two Men In a Boat” is working as a contractor to renovate the restaurant into a different facility.  As the man reports, “…that building is now under redevelopment and I guess the painting would not go along with the new office space.   I do live very close and I am one of the contractors on the job.  I sent my wife a picture of the painting one day, and she had to have it.  So now, when anyone comes over to our house, the painting is the first thing they will ask about.”  Clearly, the painting has made its way to yet another appropriate home.  I am, by almost any measure, an extremely practical person. But I can not deny the almost organic and somewhat magical resilience of these two paintings.   The way they not only survive, but keep revealing themselves to me is not just entertaining and surprising, but purely beautiful in so many ways.
Published in: on July 28, 2011 at 3:57 PM  Comments (2)  
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