By Molly Ressler
Angelo Grova was an accomplished artist across mediums, from bronze casting and stonework to painting and fashion. He was a trailblazer within the Santa Cruz artist community and a dedicated teacher who devoted the lion’s share of his time and energy to promoting the work of others. On July 13, 2019 Angelo passed away at the age of 75, but over his 40+ years here inSanta Cruz, he cultivated a vibrant, welcoming community for artists that encourages creative expression, bold ideas, and collaboration.
From Sicily to ‘Paradise’
Angelo was born in Sicily and came to New York City’s Little Italy with his father at the age of four. After high school, a friend of Angelo’s sent him a postcard from Santa Cruz and he decided to visit. According to his wife, Beverly Grova, he proclaimed that he’d ‘found paradise’ and moved across the country. Also an artist, Beverly met Angelo in a sculpture studio at UCSC, where he wound up teaching a variety of classes including stone carving, bronze casting, and drawing for 10 years. “I think that was his real purpose and love,” says Beverly. “That’s where he felt he was impacting people the most.”
Opening the doors to California’s first live/work artist studios
After a decade teaching at the University, Angelo opened Art School Santa Cruz in the Sash Mill, at what was then a working leathery tannery and is now the Tannery Arts Center. After the school was destroyed in the ‘89 earthquake, the tannery sold him the property across the street and Angelo opened the first live/work artist studios in California. The property included seven apartments and hosted a total of 20 artists—some living onsite and others using a shared studio space. Every month, Angelo would show the artists’ work at his gallery, nearly two decades before First Friday was founded. “The gallery space was always beautifully curated and got great crowds,” says Rose Sellery, local artist and co-founder of FashionArt Santa Cruz. “It was one of the destinations [for First Friday] that people would go to even before the Tannery Arts Center existed.” Showcasing emerging and established artists at his gallery, Michaelangelo Studios, wasn’t a job for Angelo; it was his passion. “The gallery never made money,” says Beverly. “That wasn’t the reason he ran it. He just loved it. He loved creativity and working with artists.”
Through his passion for promoting other artists, Angelo grew and strengthened the artist community here in Santa Cruz. “Angelo was a strong, vital, catalytic force through his sculptures, educating, and mentoring oodles of other artists and promoting shows and venues so that artists could make a living, further their careers, and get recognition,” says George Ow, Jr., Chairman and CEO of Ow Family Properties, local philanthropist, and avid supporter of the arts. “We’re lucky to have so many artists here, and Angelo was a leader in making that happen.”
Bringing fashion to Santa Cruz
Through his teaching at UCSC, his gallery, and his live/work spaces, Angelo became well known and loved throughout the artist community. It was FashionArt Santa Cruz, however, that opened the general public’s eyes to him as an influential figure in the community with an expansive creative vision for what the local art scene could be.
Rose recalls how Angelo first got the idea for a fashion show here in Santa Cruz. “There was a young woman who was renting one of his studios and studying fashion design in San Francisco. She was going up there all the time and taking classes and trying to get her fashion business started. And Angelo, who had an enormous heart and was enthusiastic about everything, suggested, ‘let’s do a fashion show right here.’”
The first FashionArt Santa Cruz show took place in 2006 outside Angelo’s gallery space in the parking lot. “We used the gallery and some of the studios inside the gallery as dressing and changing areas and then had a red carpet going down the sidewalk,” says Rose. “Surprisingly people showed up.”
The event attracted around 150 people according to Rose, closer to 600 if you asked Angelo. “That was Angelo,” says Rose. “He was always excited and just overflowing with energy.” The second year he decided they should hold the show at the Civic Auditorium which holds 2,000 people. Close to 700 people showed up, cementing the show as an annual, highly-anticipated event that Angelo took part in for 12 years.
Inspired by Santa Cruz and Japan
Although many know Angelo as the founder of FashionArt Santa Cruz, fashion was never his primary art form. He was a sculptor, known for his figurative and abstract works in stone, inspired by organic forms found in the ocean here in Santa Cruz.
He also loved working with bronze and taught a bell casting workshop up at UCSC. He was always fascinated by Japan and his Japanese bells are found throughout Santa Cruz, in private residences and public spaces like City Hall and Porter College at the University. Angelo and his family also donated a healing bell to Dominican Hospital that stands in the Monterey Peninsula Garden. “Nurses and doctors will stop and ring the bell before they go into work and when they go home,” says Beverly. “They take patients who have had strokes and put their hands on it for the reverberation.”
Remembering Angelo for his art and generosity
According to those that knew him well, Angelo will be remembered not only for his art, but for his big smile, boundless enthusiasm, and generous heart. “He was crazy fun and crazy sweet and was just filled with excitement about everything,” says Rose. “What a great loss it is for our community to lose someone who had so much energy and generosity and feeling for our community.”
His wife, Beverly, says he was deeply grateful for his life here in Santa Cruz. “He told me before he died that he had no regrets,” she says. “He felt he had lived in a beautiful place and he had really felt fortunate he had been able to have an art studio and realize a lot of his dreams. I don’t know that everybody gets to have that fulfillment.”
Angelo is survived by his family, spreading from Santa Cruz across the West coast to Sicily, and by the Santa Cruz community who will forever benefit from his contributions to local art.
Angelo Grova’s obituary can be found in the Santa Cruz Sentinel. A memorial will be held for Angelo on September 21, 2019 at Michaelangelo Studios. Condolences may be sent to 542 Highland Avenue, Santa Cruz, CA 95060. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the Dominican Hospital Foundation, 1555 Soquel Dr., Santa Cruz, CA 95065.
Molly Ressler is a writer and content marketing consultant based in Santa Cruz. She lives with her husband and pup in Seabright and loves sharing her community’s vibrant culture through her writing.