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“John was one of the most charming and warmest man I had known for over 20 years. I will never forget him and he will be greatly missed. With...Read More »
1 of 1 | Posted by: Nancy Jiran - Spring Hill, FL


Between 1900 and 1915, 3 million Italians, mostly from southern Italy, immigrated to the US. That historic wave, the largest from Europe, included Andre Angelini , his wife Rose Dragone, and their children Nat and Anna. Whereas 2/3 of the immigrants were Contadini – laborers, Andre was a tailor and a band leader, and something of a gentile. Life was not easy for these immigrants in the US – they worked at the bottom of the economic ladder and suffered a racism reflected in derogatory terms like guinea and dago.
In time, five more children joined the Angelini family: John Michael Angelini (Pop) became the 5th in 1921, following brothers Vito and Joe, and was the older brother to Mary and Laura.
To hear Pop tell it, the story of his childhood was somewhere between Charles Dickens and Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer. Whereas the Italian immigrants had fled economic and political hardship in Italy, in 1929 the Great Depression descended upon the US and lasted ten long years. At its peak, unemployment was 25 percent. Pop walked to school in old shoes padded with newspaper. One winter, one of his teachers gave him a coat to wear. He loved going to school. His friends called him the "prof" as he was an avid student. Kids are kids, and in the 20's and 30's in the Bronx they played stick ball, kick-the-can, and box-ball in the street and swam in the Hudson river.
At home, Rose made pasta and dried it on the beds – for dinner every Wednesday and Sunday. In between, there were beans and greens sometimes grown in their own small garden plot and fertilized with horse manure Pop's father made him pick up on the street. Italian operas played regularly on the radio, and Pop memorized all of them, word for word, igniting a life-long passion for singing.
The depression years were formative. Pop learned that human dignity supersedes poverty; that dignity is an attitude and a right; that hunger is intolerable for children; that people can go a long way on very little resource; that family is essential; and that every individual deserves respect.
In the late 30's, the country was swinging to the tunes of Glen Miller, Louie Armstrong, Tommy Dorsey and Bing Crosby, and Pop was swinging too. He and Joe's future wife, Lucille, regularly won dance competitions, swinging and shuffling to the Jitterbug and Foxtrot.
On December 8th, 1941, the US declared war on Japan, following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on the 7th. On the 11th, Nazi Germany and its Axis partners declared war on the US. By the end of the war on September 2nd 1945, of the 16 million American soldiers who had served, over 407,000 lost their lives. Globally the toll was over 80 million people.
Vito Angelini was drafted into the army on the 7th of May 1942. Pop, then 20 years old, decided to voluntarily enlist to accompany his brother. Sometime after Joe Angelini also joined the army, resulting in three out of the four Angelini boys serving overseas. At home Laura became a Rosie the Riveter. Pop served four years with the 222nd Quartermaster in the Pacific: first in New Guinea, then in the Philippines, notably volunteering for graves registration duties, and attaining the rank of Sergeant. In his off-duty time, he sketched portraits of his colleagues, wrote poems, and organized and acted in USO shows for the troops. He was in the Philippines when atomic bombs fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ending the war. Pop never spoke much about the war afterwards, but maintained a lifelong aversion to both war and guns. Possibly it was the quartermaster duty that instilled in him an obsession with organization – forever after he was an immaculate planner, an incessant list maker, and was never, ever, late.
Arriving back home, in San Fransisco Bay, Pop's troop were met with a hero's welcome. The guinea kid from the poor immigrant family was a national hero. Even better, the army provided a scholarship for Pop to attend the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Arts, from which he graduated four years later. While he'd always been artistic, and creative, the Newark School educated him in the laws of perspective, proportion, and composition. He dabbled in oils, but ultimately his heart set on watercolors, and pencil.
In 1950 Pop landed a job at the Berles Carton Company, in Paterson New Jersey, as Art Director. He also married Mary Baratta, with whom he would have three children: Maria, Jay, and David. He bought a house first in Livingston, NJ, and later moved the family to North Caldwell. Pop was a creative father, loving to surprise and amuse his children. One year the kids surprised him, letting him know that they had figured out he was Santa Claus long before but didn't want to spoil his fun. At Berles, he did the graphic design for the boxes that his team engineered. It was a competitive business, and Pop led successful bids on contracts with companies like Celentano, A&P, Sears, Marcal, and Nabisco.
At his home studio he began to churn out what would become a legacy of hundreds of watercolor paintings and pencil sketches. In 1956 he entered "Seascape #5"into his first competitive art show – the New Jersey Watercolor Society, and was accepted. A year later, he entered "Rigging With Radar" into the Hunterdon County Art Center show and won first prize. In 1959, he launched his first one-man exhibition at the High Gate Gallery in Montclair, New Jersey, showing 20 paintings. In the 61 years between 1956 and 2017, Pop submitted to 526 art shows – an average of 9 per year ! He was accepted in 435 of them and won 125 awards – a startling 29 percent success rate. He held 24 solo exhibitions. In 1967, he became a member of the prestigious American Watercolor Society, and "AWS" appended his signature on every painting that followed.
There were scenes of Jersey City, Manhattan, Patterson, Livingston;

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