Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Asterio Pascolini (1932 - 2014)

An artist with a passion for beauty
memoir and tribute
by Greg Larson

Asterio Pascolini
         Ding! – an email arrived from Asterio Pascolini. I read it and then took a second look. In 2005, it was the first communication I ever received from Asterio. Included in the email was a copy of a photograph I had taken of Gubbio, Italy, during a bike tour. I’d shared some photos with cycling friends at Hallmark, and I discovered that the pictures had been passed on to Asterio, a retired Hallmark artist and photographer, who was born and raised in Italy. A red circle marked a building in the photo, and Asterio included the caption: "I was born in this building!"

Asterio was born in Gubbio, Italy
          Uncanny. What were the odds? We traded emails, and I discovered that Asterio was interested in seeing all of my pictures of the bicycle trip which my wife, Gretta, and I had taken across Italy. We agreed on a date for Asterio and his wife, Barbara, to come and meet us to look at the photos.

          The much anticipated day of our meeting finally came, and we warmly greeted the guests into our home.
           Asterio’s soft voice and Barbara’s gentle manner made us feel at ease.
          With a big smile and a twinkle in his eye, he handed me a manila envelope. “Here is something I want you to have.”  As I began to open it, he continued, “I brought you a print of a watercolor painting of mine. It is of Sorano, Italy . . . you may not be familiar with it because it is a small town off the beaten path.”
          I looked at the print and then I looked directly at Asterio. Chills ran up my spine. Our eyes met as I answered him, “Asterio, not only have we been to Sorano, but we stayed in the Fortezza Hotel which is in your painting!” I pointed to the building on the hillside overlooking the town. “We had a window view of the entire town, and I know your exact vantage point on the hillside when you painted the picture!”

Asterio's watercolor painting of Sorano, Italy
          It seemed like it was “meant to be” for us to connect. From that point forward I had a friend and mentor, someone who thought much like I did about the creative process and the composition of art and photography. Over time, I learned that Asterio had the ability to connect with many people, and he had been a valued mentor to many artists at Hallmark during his career.
Greg & Gretta's view of Sorano, Italy from Fortezza Hotel
          He and Barbara genuinely enjoyed listening to us talk about our bike trip across Italy as we looked at the photos. We learned that although Asterio was born in Gubbio, his family eventually settled in the Tuscany region near Florence.
          He showed one of his creations: a DVD slide show with background music, entitled “The Colors of Tuscany.” It was a countryside view of Tuscany from his camera lens during return visits to his relatives in Italy; photos of everything from vineyards to flower pots and doorways – an intimate view of his old turf. I was spellbound. He asked for a copy of the pictures from our bicycle trip, and said he wanted to create a slideshow with them. 
          “You want my pictures?” I asked. I was stunned. My pictures?
          “I like your photos. They give me something to work with,” he said.
          I wished the incredible evening didn’t have to end. Asterio and Barbara were so cordial and genuine, and we enjoyed sharing stories about Italy.
          As they left to return home, I looked at Gretta and said, “They are really nice people.”
          A few weeks later, I found a package in our mailbox - a DVD from Asterio. It was late in the day, so I waited until morning to pop it in the DVD player and turn on the TV. I was in a hurry to eat breakfast before going to work, so I began to eat as the pictures and music came on the screen. The bike trip photos appeared while soft accordion music played in the background. I dropped my fork on the plate, walked to the living room and plopped down on the sofa. Asterio’s slideshow creation mesmerized me. I was speechless. In the ten minute video, he transported me back to Italy. I was ready to jump into the screen and get on the bicycle.
          Through discussions with Asterio, I learned he was recruited by J.C. Hall in 1958 to come from Italy to work at Hallmark in Kansas City. Hall liked Asterio’s sketching ability, and he wanted to inject some international talent into the creative staff at Hallmark. Asterio told me that once he came to Kansas City, he desired to learn as much as he could about different art media and techniques. He taught himself the basics of watercolor and of photography as well as other media. At Hallmark he was always eager to try something new, including digital photo editing.
          Over the nine short years I knew him, we traded many emails. Asterio was one of my biggest blog fans, sending me an email after each posting. He would copy his favorite line from the blog and send it back with encouraging comments and a “Bravo!” or “Magnifico!” He also sent me many links to photography websites when he found what he thought were really good art photos.
          I don’t know if Asterio ever put into words his definition of beauty, but I do know that he knew it when he saw it. He looked at photograph after photograph on his computer screen, and when he saw something he really liked, he stopped, stroked his beard and emitted a soft, reverent, “Ohhh!” When I heard that “ohhh,” I knew what he saw was special.
          I loved his anecdotes of how he put his paints and supplies in a car, then drove around the Tuscan countryside to find a hill or vineyard to sketch or paint. After showing me a painting of a vineyard, he explained that he sat outside, next to the car, and proceeded to paint the vineyard scene.
Asterio creating a watercolor in Tuscany
          “As I began to paint,” he said, “I could hear two women talking loudly across the rows in the vineyard while they were picking grapes. . . and guess what? All the time I was painting, I learned the latest gossip and the history of their families. Ha!”
Asterio's photo of vineyard in Tuscany

Asterio's watercolor of vineyard in Tuscany
          Asterio and I met a couple of times a year for various reasons. At Christmastime, Gretta and I drove to Barbara and Asterio’s house to say ‘hi’ and give them a card or a small gift. On other trips, I took him CDs with our latest vacation photos. Even when his health was failing, he invited me to sit at the large table in the Pascolini kitchen where he gave me a watercolor lesson when I asked for advice on how to shade an architectural rendering. Another time, he offered to be my audience for a historical lecture and slide show that I’d developed. His encouragement and advice were always welcome, and I always went away from our meetings with something new that I’d learned.
          I loved his Italian humor that came through when we met. Whenever he got frustrated with his computer or when things were out of his control, he put his head in his hands and laughed. He shook his head and said, “Sometimes, all you can do is laugh to keep from going crazy.”
          The last communication from him was an email response he sent regarding my December 2013 blog relating childhood memories of electric trains. He included some photos of train layouts he’d made for his kids. I looked in amazement at the molded mountains next to the bunk beds, where train tracks snaked through tunnels and scale-model Italian villages hugged the mountainsides. His mind seemed to have a limitless capacity for creative ideas.
          Now, I miss his emails. I miss the visits to see his smile and hear his laughter.  To ease the sadness, Gretta and I watch the “Colors of Tuscany” DVD, again and again. I see the sparkles of sunshine on the dewdrops of the Tuscan flowers, and the memories of Asterio, his artwork and his stories come flooding back. The tears begin to fill my eyes, and I realize they are tears of joy for having known such a wonderful man.
Asterio Pascolini (1932 - 2014)
Author’s Note:

          I want to thank Barbara Pascolini (also an accomplished artist) for her gracious permission to allow the use of Asterio’s photos and artwork for this article. After she read the tribute, she invited Gretta and me for a recent visit. It was a happy time in which we shared memories and stories. We cherish Barbara’s friendship and the memories of Asterio, and wish all the best for her and the Pascolini family.

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