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Iaccarino brings arts to people

Dispatch/Argus photo by John J. Kim

Well-known artist Ralph Iaccarino of Davenport is venturing into new mediums: television and musicc. In addition to his painting, he hosts a TV show `Art with Mr. I' and plays keyboards with a local group Noble Spirit. He continues to teach art privately and holds seminars and study sessions at area schools throughout the Quad-Cities.

Young artists often get advice, ``Don't quit your day job.''

But Ralph Iaccarino of Davenport did just that in 1983, and he and his family are far from starving.

He grew up in New Haven, Conn., with a younger brother and sister and came to St. Ambrose College to study calligraphy and stone-cutting with the Rev. E.M. Catich.

After graduating in 1969, he taught art at St. Paul the Apostle School and then at St. Katharine's/St. Mark's and at Scott Community College and the former Marycrest College.

All the while, he was perfecting his own art, and he has been represented frequently in the area's major art competitions and had numerous print editions.

Four years ago, he ventured into television with a WQPT show called ``Quad City Artists At Work,'' which were hour-long documentaries.

``I used that TV series as a form of advertising,'' He says. ``If people were looking at a major work of mine, I sent them a tape, and it worked out well.

``I thought it would be nifty if a lot of artists had promotional pieces, and it would be good for the community to know the artists in the area. That was when we started `The Creators,' five-minute segments about different artists in a 40-mile radius of the Quad-Cities. To date, we have done at least 50.''

He also worked on a Grant Wood documentary produced by WQPT.

His newest TV venture is ``Art With Mr. I,'' sponsored by Drs. Lisa and Amir Arbisser, on KLJB-TV Sundays at 8:30 a.m.

``These are art segments for children,'' he says. ``Every week we go over a different type of exercise that promotes the process rather than the project of art.''

The program came about after he met Fox 18 producer Lauri Elliott and cameraman Dave Stephenson while taping promotion for ``Life at Night,'' a festival for kids he started three years ago.

He describes ``Life at Night'' as ``a good vehicle for making people aware that the Quad-Cities needed nighttime activities for children from all economic backgrounds.''

The first festival was at the River Center, and the next two were at The Mark of the Quad Cities. The last one drew 1,200 kids, and about $45,000 has been raised to help non-profit groups do something for kids.

``We started art programs at the Boys and Girls Club and Friendly House and were able to help some housing developments that needed money to do something for the kids who live there,'' he says.

After the third festival, they took a break. Mr. Iaccarino says, ``We're getting ready to change the format. Maybe we'll have the festival during the warmer months.''

His own life at night is enhanced by his musical talent. He plays keyboard with Noble Spirit, a group stemming from his partnership with John Burchett, a member of the Ellis Kell band.

``We got together and started writing our own music,'' he says.

Noble Spirit has produced three CDs, and music for the fourth is being written.

``The first three were Latin American jazz-oriented and all instrumental,'' he says. ``The fourth will be more philosophical with some vocals. Some people from the Quad City Symphony and several people with fine operatic voices are interested in performing on this one. I want it to be beautiful voices and beautiful music telling the story of perhaps comical situations.''

Latin America has a strong attraction for him. It all started when his Peruvian friend, Jose Servat, who worked at Deere & Co., was transferred to Costa Rica and invited Mr. Iaccarino for a visit.

After 16 visits, he still draws inspiration for his large, vivid watercolors from the rain forest there.

On his first visit, he met Maria and Jorge Steinvorth, who became his patrons. He always stays in their ancestral home, Esmeralda, a rain forst retreat 30 miles from San Jose.

``They made it possible for me to meet Oscar Arias, the Costa Rican president who won the Nobel Peace Prize,'' he says.

His current series of watercolors is called ``Itabo Blankets.''

``I had some old Indian blankets made in Central America, and I threw them on the ground and scattered petals and fronds over them,'' he says.

The result is intriguing abstraction. He calls it ``a wonderful game of balancing irregular shapes and forms. The viewer is constantly scanning the painting.''

Mr. Iaccarino also is working on ``a series of paintings with an English feel'' with Loren Shaw Hellige. They're starting a series of architecture and fountain scenes. These works are in acrylics.

With Ms. Shaw Hellige he has created murals for Avenue One, a Seattle restaurant owned by Arnie Millan, a former Quad Citian; two Peoria clubs, End Zone and Bay Watch; Odyssey 21 in Springfield; Wilbur & Gills, a brandy and cigar club in St. Louis; and America's Pub in Davenport. He also worked on the decor at Chantilly Lace, Rock Island.

His biggest artistic thrill was creating a team painting in just a few minutes with Ms. Shaw Hellige, Larry DeVilbiss and Nick Di Gioia while the Quad City Symphony played a movement of ``Pictures at an Exhibition.''

``That was completely absorbing,'' he says.

He and Ms. Shaw Hellige also will do Artist-in-the-Schools residencies for the Iowa Arts Council, creating a mural at Pleasant View School, Pleasant Valley, and depicting themes of science through art at Clinton High School.

He'll never really stop teaching, and he has students aged 10 to 50 drawing and painting at his house every Thursday night.

``I like to put people of different ages together,'' he says. ``We build a tight community. I'm proud that I have the opportunity to teach. My grandfather told me never to forget that one of my strengths was being an educator, and I should share what I knew with other people.''

How does he find time to do all these things? Like Thomas Edison, he doesn't need much sleep, retiring at midnight or 1 a.m. and rising at 5:30 a.m.

``I'm turning 51,'' he says, ``and I have so many things to do and not an unlimited amount of time to do them.

``To me, a purposeful life is one of discovery, achievement and involvement with people around me.''

-- By Julie Jensen (January 26, 1998)

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