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 Silvana Cenci  (1916 - 2000)

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Lived/Active: Oregon/Maine / Italy      Known for: explosively formed sculpture

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An example of work by Silvana Cenci
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:

Submitted by Robyn Smith, friend of Silvana Cenci and her son, C. Church of Gray, Maine.

Silvana Cenci

Born in Florence, Italy, Silvana Cenci began her career as a sculptor in the classic modern style, post World War II.  In 1963, after having moved to the United States, she developed her technique of explosively formed sculpture which established her reputation, earning her both awards and media attention.

Cenci, born in 1916, attended the Academia Delle Belle Arti in Florence, 1946-49 and the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere in Paris, 1949-50.  She trained under a classical art curricula in fresco and sculpture, focusing primarily on large-scale work.  In 1950 she married artist Stuart Hoffman Church and moved to the United States.  From 1951-52, Cenci attended Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon.  She and Church were deeply involved in the artist community of the region.  In addition to exhibitions of their individual art, they worked as set designers for the Portland Theater.  Throughout the 1950s Cenci continued to have exhibitions in the U.S. and was invited to participate in a series of international exhibitions throughout Europe and in China.

Cenci relocated to Boston in 1960 where her career continued to flourish.  In 1962, Cenci married chemical engineer Charles Laws, through whom she learned about a new industrial product: plastic explosives.  She began to experiment with controlled explosions at their home in rural New Hampshire.  Cenci created a way to place the flexible explosive onto metal in the design of her creative concept and detonate it to form the piece.  She experimented with different metals in the process of perfecting her technique.  Her most striking work: stainless steel with liquid gold accent. During this time she was also a teacher at the Brookline Art Center and was a cofounder of Boston's Summerthing.  Exhibitions and demonstrations continued well into the 1970s, again earning Cenci recognition.  She lived for brief periods in West Virginia, Florida and Arizona.

Cenci continued to work and inspire other artists well into the 1980s.  But, due to failing health, she was not able to work as prolifically.  In 1980 she was noted in Who's Who in American Art and in 1984 she appeared on ABC Television's Ripley's Believe It or Not.

In 1991 she moved to Gray, Maine where she continued to mentor artists and inspire through her unique and vibrant attitude toward life.  Anyone who entered her barn-turned-studio would be in awe of the art, artifacts and wildlife that surrounded them. Cenci would often share fascinating personal anecdotes over a modest meal or insightful wisdom while tending one of the many rescued creatures that found their way to her sanctuary.

Cenci succumbed to pulmonary fibrosis in 2000 at the age of 84.  Friends and family surrounded her; among them her first love, Stuart Church, and their son, Cristiano Church.

Bronze (lost wax process)
Metal (exploded)

Related Professions
Artist in Residence and Lecturer

Education and Training
 1946- 1949 Accademia di Belle Arti, Florence, Italy
 1949- 1950 Académie de la Grande Chaumière, Paris, France 
 1951- 1952 Lewis and Clark College, Portland, OR 

Selected Individual Exhibitions
 1957 Galleria Numero, Florence, Italy 
 1957 Galleria San Carlo, Naples, Italy 
 1958 Galleria d'Arte Totti, Milan, Italy 
 1958 Galeria Beno, Zürich, Switzerland 
 1960 Nova Gallery, Boston, MA
 1964-71Weeden Gallery, Boston, MA 
 1966 Capricorn Gallery, New York, NY 
 1974 Roach-Hoffman Gallery, Naples, FL 
 1976 Bristol Art Museum, Bristol, RI, 10-year retrospective 
 1978 Frank Tanzer Gallery, Boston, MA 
 1978 Symphony Hall, Boston, MA 
 1978 Musica Viva, Cambridge, MA
 1979 Los Llanos Gallery, Santa Fe, NM 
 1985 Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ

Selected Group Exhibitions
 1952 "Oregon Artists," Lincoln County Art Center, Lincoln, OR 
 1955 "Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture," Henry Art Gallery, Seattle, WA 
 1956 "West Coast Sculptors," Portland Art Museum, Portland, OR
 1957 "Mostra Nazionale del Bianco e Nero," Museo Civico Castello Urasino, Catania, Italy 
 1962 "New England Art Today," Northwestern University, Boston, MA
 1964 "New England Sculptors Association," Boston City Hall, Boston, MA 
 1965 "Silvana Cenci and Calvin Libby," Bristol Art Museum, Bristol, RI 
 1971 "Adele Seronde and Silvana Cenci," Weeden Gallery, Boston, MA
 1975 "Contemporary Italian Art-Italian Heritage," Boston City Hall, Boston, MA catalog 
 1985 "Explosion of Form, Color, Imagination: Works by Silvana Cenci, Adele Seronde, Theodosia Anderson," Art Gallery, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ 
1986 "The Artist and the Object" Chapel Art Center, Saint Anselm College, Manchester NH
1987 "Mixed Media," Sedona Art Center, Sedona AZ

1962 A large sculpture for the Pavilion of Architecture, New Haven CT, later purchased by Harlow Carpenter for the Bundy Art  Museum, VT
1965 Two lions explosively formed for Graham Junior College, Boston, MA
1966 Baptistry Doors explosively formed. First Baptist Church, Keene NH
1968 Fountain for Western Front Restaurant, Cambridge MA
1972 One large bas-relief explosively formed, comprised of 8 panels, each 3'x4'. Community School, Dorcester MA
1968-1973 Executed a number of commissions for private collectors

Selected Public Collections
Collezione Fiamma Vigo, Rome, Italy 
Colonnade Hotel, Boston, MA
Community School, Dorchester, MA
First Baptist Church, Keene, NH 
Galleria d'Arte Moderna, Florence, Italy 
Graham Junior College, Boston, MA
Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, South Station, Boston, MA 
Merchants Bank, Manchester, MA
Millhouse-Bundy Performing and Fine Arts Center, Waitsfield, VT
Western Front Restaurant, Cambridge, MA 

Selected Private Collections
Mr. and Mrs. Joshua Levy, Boston, MA
Mr. and Mrs. Jean Montagu, Brookline, MA
Mr. and Mrs. Edward Shapiro, Brookline, MA
Dr. and Mrs. James Skinner, Bow, MA
Frederic Rothchild, Portland, Oregon 

Selected Awards
 1971 First Honorable Mention, "Design in Transit," Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority Competition, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA
 1974 Research in Creative Art Grant, Blanche E. Colman Foundation, Boston, MA 
 1983 Statue of Victory, World Culture Prize for Letters, Arts and Sciences, Centro Studie Ricerche delle Nazioni, Salsomaggiore Terme, Italy 

Related Professional Experience
1966-1970  Cofounder and Instructor, Brookline Art Center, Brookline MA
1970-1974  Artist in Residence, Boston
1988  Slide show and lecture on explosive art, Instituto National de Bellas Artes Esquela "La Esmeralda," Mexico City, Mexico
1989  Slide show and lecture on explosive art, Galleria Metropolitana, sponsored by the Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana, Mexico City. Mexico

1974-1979 Experiment in Art and Technology, MIT, Cambridge MA; Boston Visual Arts Union, Boston MA; New Hampshire Artist Association

Positions Held
1966-69 Teacher, Brookline Art Center, Brookline MA
1971-1973 Artist in Residence, Boston

Selected Bibliography
Brolin, Brent C. and Jean Richards. Sourcebook of Architectural Ornament: Designers, Craftsmen, Manufacturers and Distributors of Custom and Ready-Made Exterior Ornament. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1982.
Adlow, Dorothy. "Cenci Sculptures at Nova" The Christian Science Monitor (Tuesday, November 21, 1961) p. 7, illus.
Hughes, John A. "Explosion in Northwood." New Hampshire Profiles vol. 13 no. 6 ( June 1964) pp. 38-39, 56, illus.
Keegan, Mary. "Silvana Cenci: the Dynamite Lady." New Hampshire Times, Nov. 6, 1974.
Peloquin, Marc. "Explosive Personalities" Yankee Magazine, vol. 50 no. 7 (July, 1986), pp. 74-75.
Watson-Jones, Virginia. Contemporary American  Women Sculptors. Phoenix, Arizona; Oryx Press, 1984.
The International Who's Who of Contemporary Achievement. Cambridge, England: University Press, 1984.
Who's Who in American Art. New York: R.R. Bowker Company, 1980.

Media Appearances
Portland Oregon Art Museum courses in art appreciation
1964 Odyssey "Explosion Implosion," WBZ-TV Boston in association with National Education Television Network, Boston
"Woman Today" WBZ-TV Boston in association with National Education Television Network, Boston
1975 "The state we are in," Channel 11 TV, New Jersey, Richard Hadley.
1984 ABC TV, "Ripley's Believe It or Not" featuring "Wheels in Motion," South Street Station, Boston.

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