Saturday, March 5, 2011

ESSAY: Celebrating Alfred J. Comi, Vermont Artist & Memorial Designer

by Steve Restelli

Vermont has been a haven for artists for quite some time now. Many came to Vermont as sculptors, others to paint, draw and illustrate. But there are two standouts who are among the most popular artists in America.

We know very well the works of Norman Rockwell who resided in Arlington, Vermont. The other artist who painted Vermont scenery is Maxfield Parrish. Of Parrish, Mr. Rockwell said, "Maxfield Parrish was certainly one of our most prominent illustrators and hardly a home in America existed that didn’t have a Maxfield Parrish print. I am an illustrator. Maxfield Parrish was a painter-illustrator. He was in the Golden Age of Illustration. When I was in art school I admired him. He was one of my gods."

Maxfield Parrish lived just over the border in Cornish, New Hampshire, where he often painted scenery of both Vermont and New Hampshire. He annually entered many of his best landscape paintings at the Cracker Barrel Art Show in Newbury, Vermont, usually taking first place.

In 1957 Parrish entered two of his finest paintings, White Oak and Sheltering Oaks (seen at left) at the Newbury show. White Oak scored the higher of the two, but had to settle for second place to another painting titled Grandmere.

Grandmere (below right) had been completed only weeks before the show by a new exhibitor named Al Comi of Barre, Vermont.

Alfred Joseph Peter Comi (9/28/1900--5/23/1986) was, born in Barre, Vermont. He graduated from Montpelier High School in 1919, and went to work for Jones Brothers Granite Company in Boston, Massachusetts. While in Boston he furthered his artistic studies by taking life drawing courses at the Copley Studios. He returned to Vermont in the early 1920's and became employed by the Vermont Marble Company in Proctor as a designer. By 1925 he returned to his home town of Barre and became the chief designer for the Marr and Gordon Granite Company.

In 1927 he opened his own design studio at 107 N. Main Street in Barre Vermont, which he operated for several decades. He was very highly regarded and sought after in the granite industry. In fact, Anderson-Friberg's owner, Melvin Friberg noted "the unanimous respect of the manufacturers and dealers for Comi's designs, saying he is tops among professional designers and an elder statesman in the industry". He further stated "that outstanding orders were still received requesting his expertise and artistry...." long after Mr. Comi had retired.

Al Comi learned to paint with oils at the age of 54, studying under Stan Marc Wright, of Stowe, Vermont in 1954. He mastered painting in this medium very, very quickly. By 1957 he and other local artists started an art exhibit at the Park on Main St. which attracted several thousand people. It was this show where he first exhibited his recently completed painting Grandmere. Grandmere was highly acclaimed and took the top honors in Barre and also in Newbury, Vermont. The painting now belongs to the Aldrich Library in Barre and is proudly displayed in the periodical room on the main floor.

In August of 1961 Al Comi took the blue ribbon yet again among the 110 entries at the State Fair at the Champlain Valley Exposition. His entry was Broken Window a painting that shows a barn with a broken window featuring a blaze red blanket which has been hastily stuffed within the jagged panes of broken glass to keep out the weather. Construction materials, a wheel barrow, and a ladder await someone to do the necessary repairs.

Not many people know the name of Al Comi beyond Barre, VT, but they should. The Aldrich Library in Barre did a show featuring Al Comi's art which ran for 6 weeks in 2006. I think it is time for another show to display his remarkable talent.

Images: Sheltering Oaks, Maxfield Parrish, oil on board, 23 x 18½ in, 1956, from Christie’s website. Grandmere, Al Comi, on exhibit at Aldrich Library in Barre