A Pleasant Coincidence

Written By: Ted B Markley

By a pleasant coincidence the State of Indiana and the Crane Military Complex both are celebrating important milestones. Hoosiers are marking their bicentennial year and Crane has been in Indiana for 75 years. Their coexistence has some interesting linkages. One of the more interesting links is between Commodore William M. Crane (1776-1846) and Domenico Mazzullo (1884-1955).

1Commodore Crane was a stalwart figure during the creation of the U.S. Navy and the formation of its culture and traditions. He served in the Quasi-War, Barbary Wars, the War of 1812, and actively participated in military and diplomatic relations in the Mediterranean. During his shore assignments he was involved in the creation of many of the historic naval facilities on the east coast, including the berth where the USS Constitution is moored. Ultimately he was Chief of the Ordnance and Hydrography and the reason why a Naval Ammunition Depot in Indiana came to be name after him in 1943. And, yes his brother Ichabod Crane, a Colonel in the US Army, knew Washington Irving before Irving wrote The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

2Less well known is Domenico Mazzullo a limestone sculptor and Italian immigrant. He created the limestone bust of Commodore Crane that perseveres across from building one on Naval Support Activity Crane. Domenico did not leave many known private records. Only public records and his sculptures are available. What is available presents a glimpse of an American success story, a Hoosier artist and the little acknowledged diversity of Indiana’s heritage.

Born in Messina, Sicily in 1884 according to Mazzullo family tradition, Domenico and his sister Rosa arrived at Ellis Island in January in the early years of the 20th Century[1]. Most probably Domenico remained in the Brooklyn area of New York City for a while, but he next surfaced in Bedford, Indiana. According to the 1910 Census, he lived in a boarder with the James P. Farell family at 315 J Street near the current Bedford Campus of Oakland City University. The labor hungry limestone industry was a magnet for the newly arrived Italian workforce.

By 1910, Domenico was already listed as a carver, but not yet a sculptor. Labor level skills in the limestone industry at the dawn of the 20th Century appear to graduate through at least five levels: extraction, cutting, milling, caving and sculpting. Extraction was grueling back-breaking work that involved getting the stone out of the quarry. Historically, this phase of the work had been done by slave or convict labor. Cutting involved cutting the large chunks of limestone into dimensional size so it could be transported and marketed. Milling involved machining the stone into standard forms for construction use. Carving involved fashioning the stone in decorative patterns. Sculpting involved creating a clay model of the creation prior to the time a mallet and chisel were taken to the limestone. Today’s limestone sculptors report that limestone carvers frequently became sculptors, but sculptors from other mediums seldom became limestone sculptors[2].

3

Concetinna Aicidiacono

A naturalization application in May 1911 indicated that Domenico was still employed as a carver; he still lived in Bedford, and he was not a large person (height 5’ 2” and 148 Lbs.)[3]. His application for naturalization could have been in preparation for his marriage the following year. In 1912 Domenico Mazzullo[4] returned to New York and married Concetinna Aicidiacono. Concetinna and Domenico were lifelong companions. She later shortened her first name to Concetta, but not before applying for citizenship in Bedford the same year as their marriage. According to the Bedford City Directory of 1915, the Mazzullo’s resided at 807 I Street.

While working for C.C. Thornton and living at 840 Lincoln Avenue, Bedford, Indiana in 1918, Domenico registered for the World War I draft and both Domenico and Concetta became naturalized citizens and took the Oath of Allegiance on 18 September 1918. It was while they lived at 840 Lincoln Avenue that Domenico seems to have practiced his limestone carving talents on his residence. According to the 1920 Census, the Mazzullo’s owned their home and their front porch was formidable.

4Prior to television and air-conditioning, Hoosier hot summer evenings and some nights were spent on a cooler front porch. The front porch was very functional. It was a source of comfortable relaxation and pride since it was the residences’ face to the community. Certainly the houses at 840 and 836 Lincoln Avenue in Bedford are good examples of this utilitarian feature. Both residences have porches made of limestone which most probably will last into the 22nd Century. At 840 Lincoln the balustrade on the porch is decorated with a stylistic floral arrangement while the home at 836 Lincoln’s balustrade has a relief sculptor of Bacchus. Bacchus was the Roman god of agriculture and wine, which may indicate what weary stone carvers drank during warm summer evenings.

Domenico and Concetta next appear in the Bloomington City Directory in 1929. They were living at 519 S. Washington Street. They shared a duplex with Domenico’s partner Joseph Anthony and his wife Julia. The house appears to be a “no frills” Sears Catalog kit[5] home that was erected on the site. This is the only residence that Domenico owned where there are no telltale limestone carvings.

It is no mystery why the Mazzullos and their partners moved to Bloomington. That is where the carving business was exploding. Numerous construction projects began at Indiana University in “…the 1920s and 1930s with construction of Rawles Hall, Memorial Hall, Merrill Hall and Myers Hall. The predominantly Gothic Revival style of the Indiana University Campus lent itself well to the use of limestone, with elaborate architectural and Decorative carvings found throughout these earlier buildings.”[6]

Most of the carvings at Indiana University are not signed, but the whimsical nature of Domenico’s other creations are certainly present. For example the sleeping student and frustrated professor at Memorial Hall look very much like Domenico’s work.

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The Mazzullos seemed to have done well in Bloomington despite the Great Depression. In 1930 they returned to visit family and friends in Italy traveling on the ship Augustus of the Italia Lines. On 14 March 1932 The Bloomington Telephone published the following: “W. W. Hall reported to police Saturday [11 March 1932] that his car was damaged when a car driven by Mrs. Domenick Mazzullo, south Washington street, backed from the curb and collided with it. “ The report shows that Washington Street was difficult to drive on even back in 1932. Additionally, the report shows that Concetta was driving, a privilege not all women exercised in the 1930’s.

6By 1934, Concetta and Domenico lived at 1002 First Street in what is the Vinegar Hill District in Bloomington, a section of town know for it limestone homes an architectural grace. What is now known as the Mazzullo House has delightfully whimsical limestone carvings in every nook and cranny. Domenico not only built his own home but he most likely collaborated in the construction of at least four other homes in the Vinegar Hill District. There were four Italian carvers that lived in the Vinegar Hill District: Domenico Mazzullo, Joseph Anthony, Crescenzo (Chris) Donato, and Harry Donato. All came from Italy; all lived in Bedford and then migrated to Bloomington. Prior to moving to Bedford, Harry Donato and his brother Chris were “Honor Artists” at the Cooper Union School of Art[7]. They were actively recruited by the limestone industry in Bedford.

8

With the mobilization of the United States for World War II, Domenico registered for the draft once again. At age 58 it was unlikely he would be called-up. It is difficult to gauge his feelings about his adopted country being at war with the nation of his birth. It appears he never wavered. He created at least two sculptures for Naval Ammunition Depot (NAD) Crane–now called Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division (NSWC Crane). The first is the ornate Naval Insignia that originally stood before the Pyrotechnic Office and now stands at the entrance to the Offices of the Crane Army Ammunition Activity. Of course the second is the bust of Commodore William Montgomery Crane. Dedication of the limestone bust of the Commodore coincided with the changing of the name of the ordnance facility form Naval Ammunition Depot Burns City to Naval Ammunition Depot Crane in 1943.

9

During the war years, the Mazzullo’s moved from the home on First Street in Bloomington to a newly constructed duplex at 715-717 Woodlawn Avenue, Bloomington. Again as in previous homes and the front porch in Bedford, the duplex is adorned with mischievous gargoyle like figures sticking out their tongues at arriving guests. The Bloomington City Directory in 1952 reports that Domenico is a stone carver working for Matthews Stone Company.

In his later years, Domenico devoted some of his talents to religious themes. He carved the figure of the patron saint over the entrance to St. Charles Catholic Church on East Third Street in Bloomington. Both Domenico and Concetta were members of St. Charles.

10He created a limestone plaque for the chancel of the First Christian Church Disciples of Christ at 205 East Kirkwood Avenue in Bloomington. The plaque portrays Jesus and two children, thus emphasizing the biblical reference that only those who become as little children shall enter the kingdom of heaven. The last known works are at the St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in Kokomo, IN. Domenico carvings are on either side of the chancel rail. To the left is the figure of St Joan of Arc, a full length work in a worshipful attitude and recessed in a niche. To the right are figures of the Holy Family-the Holy Mother and Child in a recess facing the congregation and a figure of St. Joseph to one side looking toward the Mother and Child.

Domenico retired in 1954 due to failing health and passed away on 18 May 1955. Concetta passed away on 20 April 1982. Their union had not been blessed with children. Both were returned to the family and friends in New York and are interred at the Calvary and Allied Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY.

The bust of Commodore Crane was visited and surveyed by the Save Outdoor Sculpture! (SOS!) in1993. SOS! is a joint project of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Heritage Preservation[8] a program committed to the preservation and celebration of America’s outdoor sculptures. It is supported by major contributions from Target Stores, National Endowment for the Arts, Pew Charitable Trusts, Getty Grant Program, and Henry Luce Foundation, among others. There are 1256 outdoor limestone sculptures in the SOS! Indiana database. Unfortunately, only one of Domenico’s creations made the list. It is the bust of Commodore Crane, a lasting testament to both the subject and the creator.

 

FOOTNOTES

[1] The year of arrival varies from 1901, 1902 and 1903.

[2] Emails with Lou Beretta.

[3] Ron Bell, Lawrence County Historian.

[4] Domenico Mazzullo used several different spellings of his first and last name, which was probably not that odd for someone for whom English was a second language.

[5] Between 1908-1914 Sears and Roebuck sold kit homes through their catalogue ranging in price from $452 and $2906. Sears Achieves, (accessed 13 March 2016): http://www.searsarchives.com/homes/1908-1914.htm

[6] City of Bloomington, Indiana, A Walk Through the Vinegar Hill Limestone Historic District, Historic Tour Guide No. 5. 2005 (accessed 13 March 2016): https://bloomington.in.gov/media/media/application/pdf/509.pdf

[7] The Cooper Union School of Art, founded 1859 by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist, Peter Cooper and was free to the working classes. There was no color bar at Cooper Union. Cooper demanded only a willingness to learn and a commitment to excellence.

[8] Save Outdoor Sculpture! http://americanart.si.edu/research/programs/sos/

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3 thoughts on “A Pleasant Coincidence

  1. Excellent article; well written and researched..

    Like

  2. I enjoyed reading this article. Thanks Ted for prying up this small patch of history. I remember being your cell mate (cubicle)when I was part of the BFTT group.

    Like

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