San Francisco is a museum-rich city, with many museums, particularly its small ones, scattered about in the city’s colorful neighborhoods. One in particular, The Museo Italo Americano, also known as the Italian American Museum was started by Giuliana Nardelli Haight in 1978 in a small space in North Beach in San Francisco. Solely focused on Italian and Italian-American art and culture, the nonprofit museum is now housed within the Fort Mason Center.
Italians were some of the first European explorers and settlers of California. The majority of Italian immigrants were from Northern Italy and settled in San Francisco. Most of the early settlers were fishermen, who had sailed up the coast from Italian enclaves in South America, most significantly from Peru looking for new fishing grounds, but their reasons for staying expanded after arriving. By 1890, there were more Italian immigrants on the Pacific coast as in New England.
The Museo Italo Americano became the first museum in the United States devoted exclusively to Italian and Italian-American art and culture.
The museum’s Historical Archive project collects, catalogues and displays photos, documents and artifacts that tell the story of Italian immigration to California, thus preserving the history, struggle and accomplishments of Italian immigrants for future generations.
The mission of the Museo Italo Americano is twofold: to research, collect and display works of Italian and Italian-American artists, and to promote educational programs for the appreciation of Italian art and culture, thereby preserving the heritage of Italian-Americans.
Visiting an art gallery for one of the exhibitions by San Francisco artists, you read the names of the painters and sculptors and suspect for a moment that you may awake and find yourself in old Firenze.
The Museo Italo Americano’s logo is a detail taken from sculptor Arnaldo Pomodoro’s bronze bas-relief sculpture, Tavola della Memoria II (Table of Memory II), 1961, the crown jewel of the Museo’s permanent collection. Pomodoro (born 1926) is an Italian sculptor. He was born in Romagna, Italy. He currently lives and works in Milan.
Some of Pomodoro’s work can be seen in the Vatican Museums, Trinity College, Dublin, and the United Nations Headquarters in New York.
The Museo maintains a small but impressive permanent collection of paintings, sculptures, photographs, and works on paper by prominent Italian and Italian-American artists. One of their most famous works is by Emilio Tadini.
In addition to their permanent collection, the museum hosts many traveling exhibits throughout the year. Some of their past exhibits include Venini Glass & Design, Futurism & Fascism and Ghirardelli: Portrait of a Family, 1849 – 1999.
The Museo Italo Americano is not just a museum, but an important cultural center for the Italian community. One of their missions is to promote educational programs that help preserve the Italian American culture for future generations. That means you can also:
• Take Italian Lessons: Learn both conversational Italian and grammar from qualified native speakers. A full teaching staff teaches beginning, intermediate and advanced Italian.
• Listen to a Lecture: Find out more about all the aspects of the Italian culture including art, history, literature and music.
• Attend an Event: Immerse yourself in the culture at classical music concerts, film series and ongoing ITALIAN NIGHTS with its emphasis on Italian art, culture, food, and music.
• Tour Italy: Tours are designed to explore interesting aspects of the country, such as Etruscan Italy, Treasures of Southern Italy, and Easter in Sicily.
• Enjoy Opera: The Museo also offers free presentations on the history of Italian Opera, performed by the renowned Viva Opera group
The museum shop offers a collection of colorful Deruta ceramics, beautiful Murano glass jewelry by Via Graceffo, wine stoppers, bowls, mugs, vases, scarves, and kitchenware. They also have a great selection of Italian books, magazines and children’s reading series. They stock stationery, “specialty wrapping paper, and holiday cards by Rossi that will make your gifts even more distinctive.”
“Our customers love the quality and design of Rossi paper. They are so classic and Italian looking,”
says Susan Filippo, the assistant managing director.
“We stock blank notecards, notebooks and wrapping paper, which are our best sellers.“
“We purchase Christmas cards and both the staff and our customers especially like the ones that are printed in Italian.“
“We try to only carry items made in Italy. I have a few vendors that travel to Italy to purchase items such as jewelry, ceramics, leather goods, etc. and I look online for Italian companies, “continues Susan. “I am also approached by people representing artisans in Italy and I buy from them.”
“We often have an exhibit (by an artist) so we will carry books about or by that artist. In addition, we will sell some of their artwork in the gift shop.“
If you are in San Francisco and would like to visit the museum: