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Finding Fidardo Landi: a Google search leads to a legacy

January 13, 2011

Mermaids by Fidardo Landi, completed by Chester Beach 1929

Mermaids statue, Cleveland, Ohio

Their naked young bodies lay intertwined – curled up like little girls playing under the hot summer sun – on the edge of a grassy knoll overlooking the lake in front of the Cleveland Museum of Art. Down at the bottom of a lagoon, just out of the shadow of an old Weeping Willow tree, it’s hard to see them. They are gazing at the water’s edge.

Their faces want to say something. One is more confident. Her shoulders are straight as she arches upward and outward, as if to search for something on the water.  The other one is shy, maybe coy, nestled into the shoulder of her protector. Strands of hair fall into her face. She is not as strong of a figure as the other.

They lay there cold as stone since 1929, guarding the lake as visitors stroll along the park’s sandy walkways.

The lagoon is a small circular park set just below the grand steps of the art museum in downtown Cleveland. While the museum is currently undergoing a multi-phase, multi-year expansion project, the park that opens the old front entrance remains open.  Decades ago wealthy benefactors honored the city with commissions from well-known sculptors to create magnificent works of art for the city. It was their legacy in time, and that of Fidardo Landi, the artist who could make life come to life in stone.

While they are owned by the city no one in particular is in charge of maintaining them, or policing them, save the park police. After twice making a 12-hour ride out to Cleveland, I’ve asked several times at the art museum, only to be brushed aside by guards and curators. With new benefactors to pursue no one seems interested in my requests for information. Thankfully I found a much different welcome at The Sculpture Center.

Started by Landi, finished by Chester Beach.

The Mermaids were a gift to Cleveland by Mr. and Mrs. D.E. Drury. Cast in stone, the statue was designed and sculpted by my great grandfather Fidardo Landi. He passed away before it was completed. As such, the project remained dormant until under it was finished by Chester Beach in 1929.  My family believes this was his last known sculpture, but we have no details of its work.  Were it not for The Sculpture Center in Cleveland, which created a subsidiary in 1999 to repair public works of art, we might never have known it existed. It was The Sculpture Center that created a page on its website to the repair and restoration of public works of art through the Save Our Sculptures program. My brother Ken found it through a Google search.

We may never know how Fidardo Landi came to receive the commission for the Mermaids. The President William McKinley Jr. Birth Memorial was built about an hour away in Niles. Maybe his connection to his earlier commission to create of a bust of President McKinley is how he received the job.

In the summer of 2002, my sister Nina Roberts, my niece Melanie Eland, my twin nephews Dustin and Dylan Roberts, and I drove to Cleveland on our way to Chicago. A lagoon in the middle of any city didn’t seem possible, but, sure enough, we pulled around the corner on East Boulevard and saw a wash of lush green trees surrounding a lake. A parking spot along the lake gave us a quick glimpse of the Mermaids. We couldn’t unbuckle our seatbelts fast enough.

I remember running down the hill only to freeze up at the edge of their webbed legs. There she was, standing right in front of me as if she had suddenly come back to life and was about to wax poetic (i.e. lecture us). The face of the mermaid on the right was that of grandmother Alexandra Landi Camuti. There was no double in anyone’s mind. The shape of her face, the way she tilted her head upward, as not to cast unflattering shadows, and the gentle way her hair waved away from her face. I burst into tears and called my mother.

“She’s beautiful, Mom. It’s Maming (our nickname for her, which meant little mother). The face of one of the mermaids is Maming. She is absolutely beautiful. You would not believe how amazing this piece is. Yes, Mom, I am taking lots of photos.”

The restoration was completed about a year earlier. It was in excellent condition after years in the hard Midwest winters.  We stayed about an hour.

In 2009, with better camera equipment I decided to travel back out to the city to take more formal photos of the statue. My entire vacation revolved around this statue. It was the perfect week with fairytale weather. The light was bright, but not too bright. The sky was a shade of Penn State blue with balls of cotton clouds. I figured I’d set up everything and shoot for several hours. All angles in changing light.

Unfortunately the statue had been vandalized. Someone broke off the nose of the mermaid with my grandmother’s face and vulgar graffiti was written down the front chest and thighs. I was broken hearted. Still, I could understand how this vandalism went undetected for long periods of time. The Mermaids statue is situated on a ledge at the edge of the lake. From a distance, across a beach and under a Weeping Willow tree, you can only see the nose missing if your eyesight is still good. Even landscapers would have to make an extra effort to walk in front of the statue to see the graffiti.

The guards and curators at the museum gave me the same response when I reported the vandalism: “They’re not our statues. They’re owned by the city. You gotta call them.” OK, then. By the way, was there a special training program for staff on how to exhibit unfriendly and rude public relations? Please remember not to bother reaching out to the heirs of the sculptor for support in your expansion project.

I stayed to shoot photos of the statue anyway. It was still a beautiful day. The park was summer-garden perfect. It was well maintained and other visitors gave me the space and courtesy I needed to shoot the scene. At one point a string of cyclists from summer camp came riding through. Their bright yellow t-shirts dotted the outline of the other side of the lake as I photographed the statues from the back. It’s my favorite shot. Every time I get lost in staring at that photo I want to go back to Cleveland in the summer.

Background Information

New York Times Obituary: Fidardo Landi archives. Published Jan. 3, 1918

Fidardo Landi, who at the age of 19 won the Prix de Rome in sculpting, died of pneumonia on New Year’s Day at home 1287 Thieroit Avenue the Bronx. The funeral was held at home at 2 p.m. January 3, 1918.

Mr. Landi as born in Cararra Italy 51 years ago. When he was 20 years old he was chosen as Professor of Sculpture at the Academy of Fine Art in Cararra. He came to this country in 1900. One of his works “Daisy” is located in the National Academy of Design. Mr. Landi made two fountain groups for Mr. Guggenheim’s villa. He won several prizes for his work in Cleveland and in Havana and made the Redfield statue in Syracuse, N.Y.

The Sculpture Center, Cleveland, Ohio.

Millenium Project 1999 – 2002

Conservation of thirteen sculptural groups in the Fine Arts Garden and adjacent areas is the fourth annual conservation program undertaken by The Sculpture Center. The sculptures, which are owned by the City of Cleveland and date from 1899-1929, were intended as visual adornment for the newly-built Cleveland Museum of Art. Allegorical figures such as The Fountain of the Waters, Sun, Earth, and Mermaids were sculpted by Chester Beach, while Frank Jirouch created his monument in homage to the passage of time in Night Passing Earth to Day. Spring Racing the Wind, although cast in 1929, was brought to the Garden area in 1939. In addition to allegorical sculptures such as these, other sculptures signify the lives of individuals such as Harvey Rice, Marcus Hanna, Louis Kossuth, and Milan Stefanik. A pair of historic lamp posts will be conserved as well.

by Fidardo Landi and Chester Beach (1929)

Fine Arts Garden

Cleveland, OH

Conserved October 1999.

Notes about this sculpture: Begun by Fidardo Landi, this stone sculpture was completed by Chester Beach in 1929. The marble figures are seated leisurely on the East side of the lagoon.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. September 1, 2012 7:55 pm

    Beautiful. Thank you so much for preserving this history and for making it available. I would love to see pictures of the mermaids from before the vandalism. Do you have these?

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