7.10.1917 - 8.21.1968

My beautiful father, an Italian painter and sculptor. My Mother a stunning beauty, a debutant from Milwaukee traveling abroad to Paris from Smith College her Junior year. She had gotten a job working as an editor at the Herald Tribune. After two years she left Paris to work for Clipper an airline magazine, which took her to Rome. There she would meet Alberto Ungaro at a party, a handsome Italian. He romanced her, by showing her how to speak Italian, sometimes drawing pictures on the inside of a foggy windshield. I know my father loved her from the moment he laid eyes on her. This was the effect she had on men. At first they lived with my grandmother Gina. The story was that she had a hen that laid one egg a day. At the end of the day she would give them a cigarette to smoke together. It was humble beginnings. Because my father had little work in Rome, and also my mother had become homesick. It was decided that they would go to the United States. I'm sure it wasn't easy for my father to leave his family. My Uncle Bob had made a gentleman's bet with a friend, each had purchased tickets for the Irish sweepstakes. His friend was the winner, and they split the winnings. In 1958 tickets were bought to travel from Venice by cargo ship to our new life in New York City. Our first apartment was in Little Italy, a walkup in a brownstone on Grand St. My father spoke very little English, so this was a way to adjust to this new life. He found work with Remco and Ideal toy companies, where he made new born baby dolls. He also worked for Madame Alexander a doll manufacturer. I remember going with him one day I was 5 or 6 to meet with her. He had a doll to show her. The entrance to her office was on the street level of the beautiful old architectural buildings on the North side of 23rd Street between Fifth and Sixth Aves (now in 2021 the Italian market Eataly). He would make the prototypes of new born baby doll heads, the hands and feet (I've included photos of some wax heads, some melted from heat over the years) It was a fascinating process to watch, first he would make the head from clay. Some of the real stores bought dolls which had actual plastic bodies, others had cloth, with only hands and feet. Next he would make the exterior mold out of plaster of paris. When that dried, he would heat a special type of beeswax, which he then pour into this mold. When the wax was completely cooled, he would use special sculpting tools and a fine sandpaper to smooth out the surfaces. Finally he would blend water base red and white paints to achieve a flesh tone color. One day when I was six, he and I went to look in the window of FAO Schwarz the toy store (now Bergdorf's Men) where the Thumbelina Doll that was on display in the window (there's a photo here of the one I had) He had made the prototype. Of course I could see that he was very proud. I like to say that there is nothing like a father-daughter relationship. He was a beautiful man, with a three dimensional mind, always creating something out of nothing not only Art. He had a studio on 36th street where he worked with bronze, wood, he painted with espresso and ink and made the doll heads/hand/feet. He was the best story teller, I think this is a form of art, storytelling. Captivating us with his many stories at bedtime. He would speak in Italian and we would ask questions in English. Stories of his childhood, memories with his three brothers and father. They lived above the Main Train Station in Rome. They had a little sister Ada, we didn't hear much about her. One time his father shaved an X on his head as a punishment. I can't remember exactly why or what lesson was to be learned ? But it had something to do with his brothers. I can't imagine having four sons. And then there were the stories of his time in India, a British Colony where he was taken prisoner. he spent five years in a  prison camp. When the Second World War ended, the Italian government had no money to bring the soldiers back, so he spent another three years there. I had heard that there were two lines, one to Benghazie, the other to Bombay. He would tell stories about this period of his life as a prisoner, of course it was fascinating. But in reality I later found out from my cousin that the heat was so terrible that an inspector from Italy who was sent to check on the conditions, while speaking to the soldiers collapsed and died at the podium. As a punishment salt was withheld which is necessary for perspiration to cool down the body. These were some of the horrors he experienced. War is a terrible thing. There are stories I was asked to remove by my Italian cousins - probably my father would not have wanted them known. There is a sense of sadness and pain in some of my father's works. He saw a lot of death. Also a sense of fun and delight. He had a pet monkey which got him into trouble. He took a coconut and made a hole in it big enough for the moneys hand, then filled it with nuts - attaching a string. The monkey stuck its hand in grabbing the nuts and was caught. Ultimatly he had to kill the monkey to stop it from coming back to the camp after taking it into the jungle. They had theater to pass the time, some soldiers would dress up as woman which seem comical. Then there were tales of the three years after the war when he couldn't return home. There was a leper colony he spoke of where he took food and water when others wouldn't. I had heard from family that he was commissioned by the Indian government to make Art. But by the time I began to work on this website too many years had passed. I would not know where to begin looking? He had been captured by the British. And sent to India which was a British colony at the time. At the end of the war, the Italian government didn't have funds to bring their soldiers home. I've included some of the letters he wrote to his family - some parts are blocked out for censorship. He was a very special man, who I knew for only a short time. During his time in New York, he met Sergio Leone an illustrator who he had made friends. Later Sergio would die in the passenger seat of my father's car on the East Side Highway. A few months later he would die of a heart attack, a broken heart after my mother left him. A brother, son, husband, father, appreciator of life. I remember watching him take a wire hanger, unwinding it for some purpose. I recently dropped a set of keys outside between steps in the country. I thought to myself, get a hanger. I was able to fish them out with this long hook which I had created with a hanger. The keys would otherwise have be there, gone forever! He would take us, my brother and me hunting, fishing, clamming and crabbing. An appreciator of the land and sea. A great swimmer loved the Ocean. There were stories about him saving people from drowning. In the 1960's we started going to the East End of Long Island, where there was an artist community, East Hampton. It was acres of corn and potato fields - beautiful, before it became fashionable place for the rich and famous. I remember going to Willem de Kooning home and studio, he and my Dad had a mutual friend. And they were artists. I met his daughter Lisa, were were the same age - our paths would later cross for decades in the Hamptons and the Lower East Side. These few years where we were together as a family would be the best time of my life. My father was Roman a hunter and fisherman. We watched while he would skin deer and rabbit, pluck feathers from pheasant, duck, quail - remove the guts from fish, then scale them. Then there were all the ways he would prepare incredibly meals, venison, of course with a Roman twist - cucina rustica. Which always began with olive oil, garlic and tomato. What wonderful childhood memories in the brief time he was with us. After he and my mother separated, I was eight. My Mom had met another man. I was devastated. He would never have return to Rome and leave us. He was alone, separated from his family. And so was I, it would be decades before it would rejoined my Italian family.

So here, I present to you some of his works which I have been able to find from various places in the world. Some from family here in the US, and some from family in Italy. My email is here, I would love your comments.


With compassion and love for my father,

Susanna Ungaro

A special thanks to

Carlo & Laura Ungaro
Claudio Ungaro
Franco Ungaro
Paulo Ungaro
Rita De Duro
Luciana Ungaro
Luca Ungaro

Roberto Ungaro
Nancy Graham
Stewart Hickman
Sue Graham Mingus

Alessandro Tempi

Not everything is necessarily decodable. The plots of chance, for example. I sit quietly reading a book on Charles Mingus written by his wife Sue Graham Mingus is in my very personal pantheon of jazz musicians at the same level as Miles and I only regret never having seen him live. I don't know how many times I've listened to Changes One and Changes Two and in any case enough to wear out vinyl - a privilege, this, that in jazz music I used to bestow only to Davis and occasionally to Coltrane, McLaughlin and Jarrett.
Anyway, I'm standing there reading this beautiful book, when this name comes out, Alberto Ungaro, which unlike most of the others, is completely unknown to me. There are others unknown, of course, but this one stands out, not just because he's Sue Graham's first husband, but mostly because he's specified as an artist. There is enough to arouse my interest.

On the net I immediately find the webpages that his daughter Susanna has lovingly dedicated to him, with many reproductions of works and family photographs. But more than those images, what really strikes me is - even in this case - the way, tender and melancholy, in which the daughter recalls the figure of her father, who died when she was just a teenager.

Sue Graham says that Albert Ungaro, during the Second World War, was captured by the British in North Africa and then sent to a prison camp in India, where he remained long after the end of the conflict and where - it seems - the artistic vocation of Alberto was born.
The meeting between the two was love at first sight. Sue left her job at the Paris office of the New York Herald Tribune and moved to Italy. She was twenty-three, he thirty-six. They got married.

I found only a couple of finds of the artistic activity of those years: a ceramic lunette evoking the birth of St. Francis in Assisi and a depliant of an exhibition at the Galleria L'Obelisco in Rome, in January 1958.

The latter find deserves some attention. The Obelisco was the first gallery opened in the aftermath of the war. Tireless animators were Irene Brin and her husband Gaspero Del Corso, both driven by the intention of "discovering talents at their birth." Some of the greatest artists of the twentieth century passed through the Obelisco, located in Via Sistina, during the ‘50s. and among the Italians such as Morandi, Sironi, De Chirico, Balla, Campigli, Afro, Capogrossi, Fontana, Burri, Pomodoro, Cagli.

Faithful to its programmatic intentions, the Obelisco also gave space to younger or lesser-known artists, such as Alberto Ungaro, whose exhibition was presented by the great Italian writer Carlo Levi. On the occasion Ungaro presented twelve wooden sculptures (mahogany, alder, cherry). The exhibition was reviewed by art critics Marcello Venturoli on Paese Sera and by Lorenza Trucchi on La Fiera Letteraria.
In that same year, Ungaro moved with his wife and two children to the United States. It must not have been easy for a man who spoke only a few words of English to adapt to a new life in the "land of opportunities". But, as his daughter Susanna recalls on the web pages dedicated to him, Alberto effectively directed his creative skills first in the toy industry (Remco, Ideal) and then in that of collectible dolls (Madam Alexander) for which in 1967 he also succeeded to patent a model.
Thirty-one years after his sudden death, on February 1999, in New York, one Alberto Ungaro’s drawing on paper was auctioned at Christie’s.

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