|Cause & Effect
Bobbi Mastrangelo • Poinciana,
Interviewed by Sam Edsill | www.bobbiMastrangelo.com
art incorporates manhole and water covers in urban settings.
She challenges the viewer to observe the inherent artistry of the
early castings, to appreciate the technology and maintenance of
our public utilities and roads and to promote conservation and
protection of our environment.
Internationally known for her unique creations
based on the theme of manhole covers, the “Grate Artist”
deeply embosses prints on her hand-made paper transforming
mundane iron covers into jewel-like mandalas. Her tromp ‘l
oeil sculpture relief works artistically capture the essence
of utility covers in urban settings. Their appearance is so realistic
that viewers wonder how she managed to put all that “weight” up
on the wall.
cum laude with a BS in Elementary Education at SUNY Buffalo NY
where she met her husband Alfred. Influenced by printmaking instructors.
Papermaking was studied at Manhattan Graphics Center and at The
Women’s Studio Workshop in Rosendale, NY.
Mental Contagion: The notion of manholes as
art, conveys all manner of symbolism: lids over our society's
refuse, or passageways for public workers. What sort of symbolism
do you see at work here?
Bobbi Mastrangelo: At
first the lids only represented access to underground utilities:
electricity, telephone, gas and water and to sewers of course.
Mentors from the Smithtown, NY Highway Department taught me about
the various road marking colors, which identified what was under
the cover. They even pried off a cover so that I could see the
chimney support below the cover. This information was crucial to
the building of my “Con Ed Installation,” showing
the maintenance of an open manhole cover.
When streets and sidewalks are repaved, the older lids are often replaced with
modern, standardized covers. Because of our anti-pollution laws, many of our
foundries closed. We now import many more covers from India and Brazil. Most
of these designs are universal and plain.
As I traversed the streets of Manhattan, I noticed the contrast in designs, shapes
and purposes of the covers. Some of the oldest castings boasted intricate, artistic
designs created by real craftsmen. After a while I realized that some of my artworks
record the amazing patterns of older covers. So in essence, these
are historic documentations.
Water covers varying in size, from tiny hand-hole covers to 24” diameter
covers, allow access to aqueducts or water supplies. They inspired my works
promoting water conservation and purity.
MC: You refer to manhole covers
as "urban artifacts." What
draws you to them as a subject matter? Are
you making a statement on the things we overlook in everyday life?
Bobbi Mastrangelo: Actually, I have
to thank two professors for my manhole cover theme. Master printer Dan Welden
advised me to stick to one style or theme to be a successful artist. Professor
Lawrence Alloway looked over my portfolio and pointed out that circles dominated
in my work. He authored the book "Pop Art," and it was his teaching
that opened my eyes to notice the commonplace items being venerated in the art
One day, I came across several pages of manhole cover photographs. They were
ordinary common objects. We walk over them. We drive over them. Most of
them are round. I found the perfect subject matter. Working with this theme
has led to the appreciation of other ordinary objects and artifacts.
Jacob Mark Chimney Cover
MC: You must have spent a good deal of time walking around city
streets for your projects. Are there places that have particularly interesting
Bobbi Mastrangelo: The streets of
Manhattan abound in fascinating covers. In the late 1980's I discovered
Victorian age remnants of chimney covers. I don’t know if they still
exist, but I admired their unusual designs. “Celestial Cover” displays
an intricate pattern radiating from a central star. The original probably allowed
access to a coal chute below. “Jacob
Mark” was a skylight cover. The glass rounds emitted light to the
subterranean world. The
sculpture relief was based on a Fifth Avenue Site just south of The Metropolitan
Museum of Art.
I have drawers of manhole cover rubbings and volumes of related photo notebooks.
My supplies for a manhole cover rubbing and a camera accompany me on most trips. “Gaz” (France)
and “Irish Blessing” (A Celtic Design) evolved from the photos and
rubbings sent by friends.
Japan hosts a myriad of aesthetic manhole covers, some in color,
which reflects the beauty and nature of their culture. My fantasy
is to be sponsored by a Japanese entrepreneur to study and create
related art works for an exhibition in Japan.
MC: Could you talk a bit more
about your piece, “The Power
of Four in 2004,” which shows the path of four hurricanes
across Florida? Were you personally affected by these storms?
Bobbi Mastrangelo: As
former Long Islanders, we experienced some hefty hurricanes
and power outages. We were very new residents of Florida and did not give hurricanes
here a second thought. Florida’s
Coastal Hurricanes were well known, but we thought Central Florida
was a safe bet.
My visual rendition is a small fiber art piece mounted on a bamboo
frame I created. The background of hand made paper is black.
Black reminds me of power outages. The shape of Florida is in a
two-layer relief with tropical green underneath. The top layer
is blue fiber paper for The Hurricane Blues. The names: Charley,
Frances, Ivan and Jeanne and their paths of destruction are marked
across Florida. The round grate set in Tampa Bay symbolizes
the flooding waters that needing draining. Pushing the little button
in the center of the grate produces the sound of intense hurricane
winds reminding us of the “Power of Four in 2004.”
spent many years as an elementary school teacher and mother before
turning to art. How did you decide to pursue art?
Bobbi Mastrangelo: When
I was a young girl, I loved to draw landscapes and houses. By
fifth grade my focus was on ladies’ fancy high-heeled shoes.
At age twelve I was very impressed by a visit to an artist. Her
beautiful paintings hung on the walls of every room in her home.
When we moved to Cheektowaga, NY, I studied art for two
years. In my senior year I did a pencil drawing based on a photo
of The Amiens Cathedral in France. I think I spent about
forty hours on that piece and received and A+ on it. However,
the Art Teacher commented: “You’ll never be more
than a draftsman.” Well that sank to the pit of my
stomach. Forget about art, I received The Jenkins
Memorial PTA Scholarship for the study of Elementary Education.
During my six years of teaching, I often stayed in the classroom
when the art instructor came to teach my class. I learned
a good deal and sometimes participated. I took Adult Education
Classes in painting and printmaking. When I became a stay-at-home
mom, I really needed a creative outlet. My friend and I swapped
so that I could take an art class at Stony Brook University.
When I had three children at home, I instituted a home writing
and drawing program. My daughter Anne Marie said, “Mom,
if you’re going to make us write, then you should too!” And
I did! When they all were in school, I pursued more college
courses in art.
I created my first “Grate Works in 1979. A
few years later, I acquired a Dickerson printing press followed
by learning to make paper. I alternated between printing on my
hand made paper and creating grate sculpture relief works.
Great Wall Jade Medallian
MC: Are there particular artists or people who
have inspired you?
Bobbi Mastrangelo: I
sure did admire Picasso’s
energy and ingenuity. The target paintings of Pop Artist, Jasper
Johns have been a positive influence on my Grate Works. My mother,
Martha Betschen, planned her meals to be colorful as well as
appetizing presentations. We played color games at the supper
table. Mom taught us to notice details.
My father, Herman Betschen, was a self-taught draftsman for Bell
Air Craft for part of his career. He created several inventions
and in the 1940’s built a huge freezer to preserve our food. For
a senior event, he created a robot costume with buttons that lit
up when pressed. His inventive and engineering skills impressed
me. Some of my larger installations and interactive sculptures
are due to his influence and I think about my father when I create
My sister, Judie Pufpaff, is a very talented impressionist landscape
painter. And the last influence, I must admit was the comment from
my high school art teacher, “You’ll never be more than
a draftsman!” It nagged at me for years. I vowed to
prove him wrong.
Over 25 years after graduation, my art teacher came to see my
work. He wrote in my guest book “You have now become my favorite
student!” We laughed about the draftsman comment. He
confided that his high school art teacher failed him.