Thursday, March 06, 2008

remembering Edmund Casarella, a ROCKIN' family friend (and great sculptor) from across the street

(above) "Behind the Eight Ball" (1960), by printmaker and sculptor Edmund Casarella
(all three prints courtesy the Annex Galleries, Santa Rosa, CA)
(above) "Detroit" (1961)
(above) "Climax" (ca. 1960)
Across Linden Avenue in Englewood, NJ, where the Grushkin family made its home beginning in 1950, there lived printmaker and sculptor Edmund Casarella. He was one of my dad Phil's and my mom Jean's closest friends, along with Ed's wife Nikki, and their (and thus our) neighbors Sam and Soni Fischer (Sam was a fine art painter), and everyone's respective kids. Phil, Sam, and Ed had one whale of a great time together for 60+ years.
As kids, my brother Jonas, and our sister Dena, and I often made our way across the street to Ed's studio, a somewhat re-converted, rambling old carriage house dating back to the horse-and-buggy days. Englewood (where George Washington marched down Palisade Avenue, fleeing from the British) was and still is a prominent suburban city across the Hudson River from New York City. Residents of Englewood can take public transit and be in midtown in less than 30 minutes. Ed's studio was a fantastic place, full of his enormous steel sculptures and printmaking presses. And Ed himself was wonderfully eccentric, just a great guy.
I knew about his work because the Grushkins displayed some of his--and Sam Fischer's--prints and paintings on our own walls. I grew up with that art, along with 10,000 artbooks that my dad collected (he himself was responsible, as art director for publisher Harry N. Abrams, and as an independent book designer of great renown, for hundreds of these). My mom was a longtime para-professional librarian in Englewood, so it was all about books, art, sculptors, printmakers, typographers, caligraphers, and such at the dinner parties.
What I only recently learned was that Ed handled at least one automotive-styled commission for the magazine Business Week to illustrate their "Business America" series in 1960. The piece titled "Behind the Eight Ball," atop this blog, obviously a modern abstract expressionist view of a V-8 engine, is a paper-relief print. That kind of print was Ed's specialty, a variation on the woodcut print.
I'm not sure if the other automotive piece, "Detroit," a color woodcut print from 1961, was also commissioned similarly for Business Week. But they're both great takes on a subject I've come to know well.
The third piece, "Climax," originally commissioned by Upsala College, is more typical of the oversize black and white woodcut prints and 8-foot-high sculptures Casarella created throughout his career.
Ed was born in 1920 and died in 1996. He studied, like my dad, at Cooper Union in New York, before being hired by Antony Velonis to print serigraphs at Creative Printmakers under the National Youth Administration. After his army service, he took courses under the G.I. Bill from 1949 - 1951 at the Brooklyn Museum School. I myself was born in 1951, and both the Casarellas and Fischers, came to live across the street from us in the late-1950s.
Casarella earned a Fulbright Fellowship in 1951 which allowed him to travel to Europe, in particular Italy and Greece. He returned to the U.S. at mid-decade, having also earned a Guggenheim Fellowship, and in 1956 began teaching. Ultimately he would head up courses at Cooper Union, Finch College, Hunter College, and hold temporary positions at Yale, Rutgers, Columbia, and Pratt. My dad did similarly, in book design, at Harvard-Radcliffe, NYU, and others.
You can see many wonderful Casarella prints (also for sale) at
As far as the cars go, I've no particular memory of what Ed or Sam drove, but my dad in his day had one of those rocket-nosed Studebakers along with a rugged-looking Willys station wagon
(some of the readers here will remember an earlier blog that included a childhood photo of that Willys, with me poking out thru a window). Mostly, though, the Grushkins were a Ford Country Squire family.
The Fischer family will live in my heart forever, as the Fischer girls were responsible for turning me on to the MEET THE BEATLES lp, and maybe what I've done professionally ever since stemmed from that pivotal moment in time.
RIP Ed Casarella, it was a pleasure being a kid across the street from you and your welding torch.


scrubby said...

my father drove a 1960 white volkswagon beetle, which didn't even have a gas gauge! (that was extra! there was a knob you turned when you started to run out of gas, and it gave you an extra gallon to get to the gas station)

he kept it for 17 years,and i got to drive it all through high school.

what a great our very "artistic street!" what fun we had growing up there!

thank-you! d.c.

Dena Grushkin Florczyk said...

Nice tribute, Paul... to a a really amazing artist and wonderful family friend. The thing I will never forget about Eddie Casserella was the friendship between him and my dad. There was no one my father respected more. There was no one who brought a smile to my father's face like Eddie did. My dad, Phil was a really serious guy. He spent most of his years in Linden Avenue in his studio on the third floor. Eddie brought out something in my dad that no one else could. For that he will always remain dear to my heart.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for a wonderful discription of an amazing artist.
I'm working at the Mark gallery in Englewood that opened this past November and had the good opportunity to meet Mrs. Casarella at the town's Gallery Walk. I didn't know who she was, but I knew she was someone very special the moment I saw the pin she was wearing. I commented about how incredible it was and she told me her husband made it for her and who she's all a very terrific Englewood story.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Money is so intangible, its almost like a promise and a piece of paper.

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I loved the perfect work that man got because I saw some of his sculptures and that's incredible it's something not usual, for me the best sculptor.

Anne Harrington said...

My Dad Worked with Mr. Casarella at ABC. I saw his carriage house studio in Englewood in 1987. It was my dream to have the same thing as an artist. Very nice man. He gave me a drawing on cardboard one time. I never ended up as productive painter. I had to give it up for the reality of money. I got my degree in business but remember all that I had learned from painters and sculpters during the modern period. Thank you for posting this. He deserves a tremendous amount of credit for all his work.

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Chad R. said...

At about 10yrs. of age I started collecting art, not being extremely knowledgeable about artist, I acquired a 62' watercolor titled "Denver" signed E Casarella. I just love the bold colors! I know some basic info. about Mr. Casarella via the internet, I just love all the stories everyone has to say it sounds just wonderful to hang out in his studio and absorb the art. How could you ask for more?!!! If there is anyone that remembers "Denver" and its history or why it was painted I would generously lend an ear!! I love all my art E Casarella, Warhol, R Wood, N Rockwell etc., etc., etc.... like my pet's. "Denver" is dated 62' the year I was born, it would be a great 50th for "Denver" and I to celebrate its history and beautiful composition. I have searched in vein for its likeness and history, to no avail. CAN ANYONE HELP? I'm keeping my fingers crossed. O' Mr. Casarella went to be with his fellow artist on Feb. 11th my brother's B'day. A great celebration of life! Happiness to All!!