Luigi "Gino" Manelli, whose career as a professional artist and teacher spanned seven decades and who was known for his use of color and light, died Saturday of cancer at St. Elizabeth Rehabilitation Center in Southwest Baltimore.
He was 94.
Mr. Manelli, who was known as "Gino," was born in Philadelphia to parents who emigrated from Abruzzo. In 1923, he returned to Italy with his parents, who established a general store and later a laundry business.
As a youngster, he began doodling on old dry-goods bags he found in his parents' store; when he was older, he began taking formal lessons from artists in Abruzzo.
He later studied art and earned degrees from the Lyceum of Rome and the University of Rome School of Belle Art.
During the 1930s, he was a political cartoonist for Il Messaggero, a Rome daily newspaper, where he "gained a reputation throughout Italy for his mordantly humorous caricatures," reported The Evening Sun in a 1959 article.
"I left Il Messaggero because with the outbreak of the war, the fascist government expurgated all humor and all criticism from the press," Mr. Manelli said in the interview. "If I could not laugh, I could not draw."
In addition to his artistic talent, Mr. Manelli began racing bicycles when he was 17 and turned professional the next year. He became a champion bicycle racer and had won the grueling Copa Unes race.
His father and two brothers had left Italy and returned to Philadelphia in the late 1930s as war threatened Europe.
Mr. Manelli and his wife, the former Cristina Flagelli, whom he married in 1940, remained behind in Italy to care for his mother and sister, and operate his father's laundry business.
With the outbreak of hostilities, Mr. Manelli was impressed into the Italian cavalry, from which he shortly deserted.
He joined a partisan group, the Avoltoi delle Ripe, or Falcon of the Ridges, and spent the rest of the war fighting the forces of dictator Benito Mussolini in the mountains outside Rome.
As a courier, his job was riding a racing-type bicycle over treacherous mountain roads that were patrolled by enemy sentries.
Mr. Manelli explained in The Evening Sun interview that he left Mussolini's army for two reasons: He had been born in Philadelphia and was an American citizen, and he "could not stomach the political ideology of the fascists."
When the German army occupied his town, he escaped arrest on charges of disloyalty by telling them, "I'm a painter. I'm a painter," he said in a 1992 interview with The Sun.
After the war ended, he returned to the town of Teramo, in central Italy, and described the years from 1940 to 1947 as "when the world was upside down."
He opened a dry-cleaning establishment, played drums in a jazz band and worked as a newspaper caricaturist.
"By 1953, he was gaining recognition as a master colorist," said a son, Julian A. Manelli of Ellicott City. "In fact, his great teacher, Ugo Sfoza, said his art 'captured the light of Naples and the colors of Rome.' He really was a master of color and light."
In 1956, Mr. Manelli and his family left Italy and settled in a home on North Hilton Street in Baltimore. He took a job as a garment worker.
He returned to work as an artist and later moved to Catonsville and then Ellicott City, where he opened a studio in the early 1960s in a rented space on Tongue Row.
In 1972, he moved to a larger studio in the 3700 block of Old Columbia Pike in Ellicott City, where, in addition to painting landscapes and portraits, he taught students for years.
In the late 1960s and 1970s, Mr. Manelli, who described himself as an "impressionistic realist," also worked alongside Betty Wells as a courtroom artist for The Sun.
"Gino was a great guy. There's no question about that. He was just a great person and artist," said Bennard B. Perlman, a Baltimore artist. "He really put himself out there for all of his students and was there to help them."
Mr. Perlman admired Mr. Manelli's willingness to try different artistic styles.
"He would always change his style from time to time, which I thought was a great idea and an inspiration to his students," he said. "He was all over the field and very capable. He always rendered his subject matter in a beautiful way."
Joe Bontz, a Westminster art collector, was a fan and friend of Mr. Manelli's for more than a decade and owns 25 of his paintings.
"I like the way he handled color and light and his variety and style of subject matter," Mr. Bontz said. "I think we have more landscapes than anything else. I particularly like the way he handles the sky and water."
When people suggested that Maryland wasn't as romantic or stimulating an environment as Italy, Mr. Manelli had an answer for them.
"We have much here to paint, in Maryland, in Baltimore. I do not need the Apennines," he'd explain.
"He used to say that the hills above Ellicott City were a 'mini-Apennines,' " his son said, "and 'the stone houses are like many of the stone houses in the Abruzzo.'"