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Bit of Italy on the Delaware

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Bit of Italy on the Delaware
Positano Mayor Domenico Marrone will exhibit artwork in Lambertville.
Thursday, March 13, 2008 4:29 PM EDT
By Ilene Dube

“Bather” by Domenico Marrone.

WITH its pastel-colored houses cantilevered into the hillside overlooking the Amalfi Coast, Positano, Italy, is considered one of the most picturesque spots in the world.

”Positano bites deep. It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone,” wrote John Steinbeck in 1953. Until then, Positano had been a poor fishing village, but after his essay appeared in Harper’s Bazaar, it became a tourist mecca. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones wrote “Midnight Rambler” from a Positano café, and artists flock to its shores to paint the Mediterranean architecture and floral displays — bougainvillea, oleander, mimosa and apricot trees.

In 1952, when Positano was first being discovered, a retired public relations executive fell in love with the village. Edna Lewis, a New Yorker whose sister ran an art school in Taxco, Mexico, decided to start her own school in Positano. With three teachers and 70 international students, painting, drawing and ceramics were taught in the morning, and afternoons were reserved for swimming, exploring and sketching trips around the countryside. The glistening dome of the Santa Maria Assunta in majolica tile was a common subject in the artwork produced. Exhibits of participants’ work began festively with cocktail receptions.

Looking over the brochure — during this time period, pensiones started at $4/day — it sounds tempting indeed for the amateur to the experienced artist seeking a dream-like destination.
Ms. Lewis died in 1972, and the Positano Workshop came to an end, but last summer, Positano Mayor Domenico Marrone dedicated a little square to her as the founder of the Positano Art Workshop. Ms. Lewis left her collection of art to the community of Positano, and it is on view in the municipal building, where Mayor Marrone works.

In a town founded on beauty and art, it should not be surprising to learn that Mayor Marrone is himself an artist. He will be exhibiting his work at the Peggy Lewis Gallery in the Lambertville Library March 22 through April.

Mr. Marrone has painted stylized portraits of politicians, actors and singers using fantastical color. The figures have the large misaligned eyes of some of Picasso’s portraits, the smooth lines of Modigliani’s portraits and the roundness of Botero’s subjects.

There’s a painting of a “bather” in a bright yellow hat with a whimsical twisted expression on her face, a couple dancing with the woman’s leg wrapped up and around her partner, and “Woman in a Yellow Dress” with big red bow-shaped lips.

How did an Italian mayor wind up with an exhibit in Lambertville?

Edna Lewis’ son and daughter-in-law, Michael and Peggy Lewis, settled in Lambertville in the 1950s to raise their four children. Prior to that, the couple had painted and run a gallery for emerging artists in Greenwich Village. Peggy Lewis had been a writer, a publicist, a poet, a photographer, an arts activist, a collector and a closet painter. Ms. Lewis founded Artsbridge in her Lambertville living room, and it became an association with a gallery and arts classes that continues to nurture artists and promote artwork.

When Michael Lewis died in a motorcycle accident in 1989, Ms. Lewis, along with Lambertville artist Barry Snyder, started the ABC (Art Book Collection) Gallery at the Lambertville Public Library, based on a donation of Mr. Lewis’ art books. Shortly before her death, it was renamed the Peggy Lewis Gallery.

Toward the end of Peggy Lewis’ life — she died in 2003 at age 86 — she had more than 2,000 paintings in her collection, according to her daughter, Ogden Kruger. Every square inch of her wall and floor space was filled with art.

Ogden would visit her grandmother in Positano when she was a young girl, and through a mutual friend learned that Mr. Marrone’s artwork would be traveling to the U.S. For Ms. Kruger, her family story is coming full circle with this exhibit. “We’ll give him the key to the city that night,” says Ms. Kruger, who has dabbled in artwork and jewelry design. “Lambertville is an arts and culture center on the water, just like Positano.”

Paintings by Positano, Italy, Mayor Domenico Marrone will be on view at the Peggy Lewis Gallery, Lambertville Public Library, 6 Lily St., Lambertville, March 22-April 30. Gallery hours: Mon., Wed. and Fri. 1-9 p.m.; Tues., Thurs. 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Opening reception March 22, 5-8 p.m.; (609) 397-0275.

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