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May 14, 2009

Obituary: Virgil D. Cantini

Retired Pitt professor and internationally acclaimed enamelist and sculptor Virgil D. Cantini, whose work is on public display on the Pittsburgh campus and throughout the city, died May 2, 2009. The longtime Oakland resident was 90.

A native of Italy, Cantini and his family emigrated to Weirton, W. Va., in the 1920s. He attended Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon) on a football scholarship, earning All-America status as a quarterback and receiving a bachelor’s degree in fine arts in 1946. He earned his master’s in fine arts at Pitt in 1948, and was granted an honorary doctorate in fine arts from Duquesne in 1982.

Beginning in 1948, Cantini’s artwork gained national exposure when his enamel “Masquerade” was juried at the 13th National Ceramic Exhibition in Syracuse, N.Y. In 1953 he was named one of the “Hundred Leaders of Tomorrow” by Time magazine. In 1956, the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts named Cantini the region’s Artist of the Year.

By 1959, Cantini was considered among the most prominent contemporary enamelists, with his work included regularly in New York’s Museum of Contemporary Crafts exhibitions.

Cantini taught at Pitt for 38 years, retiring in 1989. He was the first chair of the Department of Studio Arts, which he is credited with establishing.

“Professor Cantini was a distinguished member of our faculty whose passion for making art and belief in the role of the creative arts in undergraduate education led to the founding of our Department of Studio Arts,” said N. John Cooper, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences. “His legacy is unique in that the campus will be graced by fine examples of his creations for many years to come, including the sculpture ‘Man’ on Parran Hall and the signature enamel mural ‘Science and Mankind’ in the Chevron Science Center.”

Other Cantini pieces on display at Pitt include “Ode to Joy” outside David Lawrence Hall, a tribute to the late Pitt Chancellor Edward Litchfield, and “Enlightenment and Joy,” an enamel mosaic on the first floor of Posvar Hall, also created to honor Litchfield, who died in a plane crash in 1956.

Cantini also designed and executed the mosaic that provides the background to the judges’ bench in the Barco Law Building’s Teplitz Memorial Moot Courtroom. The mosaic is a compound of 126 porcelain-on-steel pieces that represents the artist’s conception of the harmony of the law.

Among his local artworks, his enamel-on-steel mural called “Aerial Scape” sits inside the lobby of One Oliver Plaza, Downtown.

Cantini is survived by his daughter, Lisa Cantini-Seguin; his sister, Emma DiCiccio; his brother, Andy Cantini, and four grandchildren.

Memorial contributions may be made to East Liberty Family Health Care Center, 6023 Harvard St., Pittsburgh 15206, or to the Pittsburgh Italian Scholarship Fund, c/o Mrs. Joseph Mammorelli Sr., 60 S. 24th St., Pittsburgh 15203.

—Peter Hart

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