Bartolo `Bart' Prestianni

[ Age 88 ] Longtime autoworker and World War II veteran enjoyed painting and `would do anything for anybody.'

November 05, 2007

Bartolo "Bart" Prestianni, a retired Baltimore autoworker who enjoyed painting and who delighted family and friends by bursting into song at weddings and other social gatherings, died Thursday of heart and kidney failure in the long-term care unit of Good Samaritan Hospital in Baltimore. He was 88.

Born to Signorino and Basilia Prestianni, he was one of eight children.

A graduate of Technical High School in Baltimore, he attended the Maryland Institute College of Art. But his interest in art took a detour into the world of industry in the 1930s.

Mr. Prestianni found himself painting the black rims around the soles of shoes for the Bata Shoe Co., according to his brother Phillip Prestianni. The pay: 2 cents a shoe. Later, he did upholstery work.

Drafted into the Army in 1941, Mr. Prestianni was stationed in Bermuda. He became his unit's middleweight boxing champion before being honorably discharged as a private first class in 1944.

His niece, Nancy Lawrence of Fallston, said her uncle made a strong impression on people.

"Everybody has somebody in their family that stands out," Mrs. Lawrence said. "He was kind of this grouchy, argumentative guy, but he had a heart like a marshmallow. He would do anything for anybody."

Her uncle, a lifelong bachelor, "loved to sing and whistle" and often did so at family weddings and other occasions, Mrs. Lawrence said.

Mr. Prestianni worked for 30 years on the assembly line and later as a foreman at GM's Chevrolet plant on Broening Highway before retiring in 1979.

His passion, though, was drawing and painting, according to his brother, who had shared a home with Mr. Prestianni for many years in the Northeast Baltimore neighborhood of Gardenville.

Phillip Prestianni said his brother spent two years painting a mural that depicts scenes from World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam. He donated it to the American Legion, of which he was a longtime member. It is on display at Rosedale Post No. 180.

Mrs. Lawrence said her uncle continued painting and drawing until shortly before his death - he finished a color pencil portrait of a hospital worker's new grandchild two weeks ago.

Funeral services are scheduled for 11 a.m. today at St. Anthony's Church in Baltimore.

Besides his brother and niece, he is survived by two sisters, Nancy Grimmel and Carmella Bongiorno, both of Baltimore; and 19 other nieces and nephews.

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