The nonnas and nonnos of Little Italy are my roots.
They’re my past and my present.
They’re why I am who I am today.
I see a nonna in the neighbourhood, and feel right at home, as though that’s where I belong.
Maybe she’s wearing an old coat she’s sewn up dozens of times.
Maybe she’s pushing a grocery cart to the store to fill with fresh produce.
Maybe she’s alone, or maybe she has a nonno with her, an old gentleman who somehow manages to still look dapper despite the old, faded shirt and slacks he’s been wearing since the 70’s.
These nonni have been fixtures in Little Italy, in my hometown Serra San Bruno in Calabria, and anywhere else you can find more than a handful of Italians. They haven’t changed much for as long as I can remember. Take a look at the above two photos. Both were taken a few weeks ago, but if you compare them with one taken fifty, or even a hundred years ago, would you even notice the difference?
At the same time, these nonni are a vanishing breed, and that makes me sad. I use their presence to remind me who I am, and without them I’m afraid I’ll forget.
My hometown, Serra San Bruno, is a tiny village a thousand feet up a mountain, and the place was full of nonnas and nonnos walking around, so in essence they are my village both physically and spiritually.
This is part of why it’s so cathartic to paint these people for me.
By creating this painting, it’s a way to preserve their memory and the feeling they instill in me. It helps keep me grounded in a world of increasing uncertainty.
The photograph you see above is part of another project of mine as well – taking photographs of nonnas and nonnos on the street through my rear view mirror to symbolize their vanishing.
These people will never know how much they meant to me, someone they’ve never met.
Contact Francesco Galle
If you enjoy this work, there’s a lot more like it available in the custom Italian art prints to buy online section of my website. I’m also available for commissioned work.