Little Italy artist DeSales is honored with a plaque

February 24, 2003|By Rebecca McClay | Rebecca McClay,SUN STAFF

Tony DeSales, Little Italy's unofficial ambassador, spent 35 years sketching from his office -- a street corner in the heart of Baltimore's Italian district.

Family members, neighbors and a U.S. senator yesterday honored DeSales, who died almost three years ago at age 59, with a plaque at Fawn and High streets.

The grandchildren of DeSales' sister Anita Nucci of Baltimore -- 11-year-old twins Jessie and Tyler Korpisz of Carney -- together lifted the gray paper drapery off the bronze plaque yesterday afternoon. The Rev. Michael Salerno of St. Leo the Great Catholic Church, a block from DeSales' corner, blessed the plaque.

"What a Renaissance guy he was," said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat who was among the 50 people huddled around the plaque. "His art was the art of the everyday life. He was Little Italy's troubadour to the world."

DeSales, who sketched in business suits and ties, perched in front of his easel on the busy restaurant-laden corner every day, often working after sunset.

With his glasses hung low on his nose, he focused for hours on the details of the neighborhood's churches, local landmarks and rowhouses. He sold his sketches, from $20 drawings to 50-cent postcards, to visitors and local residents, frequently giving postcards to tourists to mail back to him.

"He wasn't a rich man, but he was rich in his God-given talents," said Nucci. "He was a fixture."

DeSales chatted with tourists about Baltimore history and discussed mathematics, politics and literature with neighbors.

"A lot of people in Little Italy know many people, but everybody knew Tony," said Lou Mazzulli, DeSales' friend and Webmaster of a Little Italy Internet site. "He would be the ambassador to anybody who came through here because everybody saw him."

The plaque, which reads "Little Italy's artist and scholar" under his portrait, is mounted on a brick wall of Capriccio's restaurant. Across the street at Chiapparelli's, Brian Chiapparelli remembered when DeSales sat in front of his family's restaurant.

"All the customers really liked him," Chiapparelli said. "Little Italy is an experience; he was part of the experience."

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