Frank Cipolloni, 77, screen painter, created signs, displays for library

October 26, 2002|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Frank Joseph Cipolloni, an artist who painted Baltimore's window screens and hand-lettered thousands of signs for the city's library system, died Tuesday of complications of diabetes at Genesis Loch Raven Nursing Center. He was 77, and had spent his entire life in Little Italy.

During his 42 years at the Central Enoch Pratt Free Library, he painted and illustrated thousands of signs. He also helped arrange its Cathedral Street window displays - and painted bucolic scenes on wire screens for his Southeast Baltimore neighbors.

Born in Baltimore and raised in Little Italy, Mr. Cipolloni studied at the Maryland Institute College of Art. During World War II, as an Army reconnaissance scout he fought in five major battles - Normandy, Ardennes, Northern France, Rhineland and Central Europe.

In the 1940s, he joined the library's display department and worked alongside his brother, Charles, also an artist, and sister-in-law, Aileen. In a studio crowded with easels and paint pots overlooking Park Avenue, they made the signboards and window displays.

"He was always happy-go-lucky and had a playful nature. He could find the humor in things. He was well-liked," said Bill Bond, a retired Pratt graphic artist. "He was a library legend - he made 50 signs a week - and was a prolific painter, too."

Colleagues said he also did silkscreen work, and used saws to cut and trim the background panels that promoted books and library services. But most of all, they recalled his artistic, skilled hand lettering.

"He was a joy, fun to be around and was wonderfully skilled at calligraphy," said Howard W. Hubbard, the library's former public relations chief. "The calligraphy he did was a very special feature of the Pratt Library windows. When people toured the buildings, it was often his lettering they noticed."

Mr. Cipolloni, who enjoyed entertaining at his Albemarle Street rowhouse, painted a depiction of The Last Supper in his basement. He also created more than 150 oil paintings, many of them portraits and Baltimore scenes, such as one of Mayor Thomas D'Alesandro Jr. turning off the city's last gas lamp.

In the 1940s, as a way of making extra money to go on dates, he began painting screens for friends and neighbors. Family members said he painted scenes of a lake and swan, cottage and brook - and in later years, a man landing on the moon. He was featured in a 1988 documentary film, The Screen Painters.

Mr. Cipolloni was a civic leader in Little Italy. For 50 consecutive years, he was grand marshal of the St. Gabriel and St. Anthony processions.

His wife of 49 years, the former Maryellen Redmond, died in 1999.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11 a.m. Monday at St. Leo Roman Catholic Church, Stiles and Exeter streets, where he was a member and served on parish committees.

He is survived by a son, Frank D. Cipolloni of Parkville; a daughter, Francene Bradford of Eastpoint; and five grandchildren.

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