In front of St. John's Cathedral in Paterson stands a statue of Irish priest Dean William McNulty, comforting a barefoot orphan boy. The statue, completed in 1923, has come to symbolize nationally the pastoral role of priests in a working-class city like Paterson. It is also one of the best-known works of sculptor Gaetano Federici, whose outdoor sculptures abound in Paterson and other parts of North Jersey.
Federici died in 1964, at the age of 84, leaving a legacy of hundreds of public works.
Shortly after Federici died, his studio collection was sold by his family to an old friend and admirer, Clifton contractor John Saveriana. The studio collection includes models for some of Federici's more famous statues, including Father McNulty, and for a World War I memorial in Paterson.
In 1978 Saveriana sold the items to Joseph Randazzo, a collector. Four years ago, Randazzo decided to sell all 215 pieces, and got in touch with an art auctioneer. A group of Paterson residents formed the Federici Collection Inc. in the hope of acquiring the collection. The Martini Foundation bought it on their behalf.
Federici, Paterson's unofficial "sculptor laureate," was one of New Jersey's few native sculptors, according to one expert, and an extraordinarily prolific one. The Encyclopedia of American Biography in 1966 called Federici "an outstanding American sculptor . . . who won international acclaim for his work."
According to Meredith Bzdak, New Jersey coordinator for a project called Save Outdoor Sculpture, Federici's Collection is well worth saving. His works, she said, "are of great significance to us as a state in understanding our historical past."
At least 40 of Federici's major statues are within two miles of Paterson's City Hall. Federici's sculptures also are found in Cuba, New York, Hollywood, and in churches and cemeteries throughout the region. Bzdak said the studio collection represents the majority of Federici's life work. "I feel the studio collection should remain intact - because it is one of the only collections of its kind. And because of the significance of Federici to us," she said.
Fiorina said she remembered her grandfather as always at work in his studio. She has family snapshots of him, a short, sprightly man with a carefully trimmed goatee and a beret. The pictures are of a grandfatherly figure smiling warmly into the camera while working on huge figures in his studio.
Gaetano Federici was born in Castelgrande, Italy, in 1880. In 1887, he and his mother left their mountainous village to join his father, Antonio, in Paterson. Antonio Federici was a stone mason who had become a successful contractor in the booming industrial city.
Federici showed artistic promise as a Paterson High School student. By that time, his father could afford to allow the boy to get artistic training. As a young man Federici was apprenticed to some of the leading sculptors of his time. He studied in New York with the Art Students League.
According to Bzdak, Federici was trained in the academic tradition and would never stray far from it. Experts called him a conservative sculptor: While European sculptors were doing avant-garde work, Federici stayed with classical themes. He was painstaking in his attention to detail, yet always attempted to capture the personality of the subject.