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 Victor Riu  (1887 - 1974)

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Lived/Active: Pennsylvania/New York / Italy      Known for: monument and free-form carved sculpture

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Ad Code: 3
AskART Artist
from Auction House Records.
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Following is copy from two exhibition documents plus a list of collections holding work by Victor Riu.  Submitted by Christine I. Oaklander, Ph.D., Arts Coordinator, Lehigh Valley Health Network.

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
January 7 through 31, 1972

Born in Trieste, Italy, in 1887, Mr. Riu studied at the Scuola per Capi d’Arte in Trieste from 1899 to 1903. Afterwards he worked in his grandfather and uncle’s Studio of Fine Monuments before coming to the United States in 1906. Mr. Riu’s long and varied experience in stone design and carving includes work on the New York Public Library buildings, the new Grand Central Station, and the Chicago Court House. He continued his work in Vermont and in 1922 founded the Coopersburg Granite Company, becoming the President and General Manager, a position he still holds. Since 1952 he has explored the possibilities of the blue-black granite (Diabase) of Coopersburg for his work in sculpture and has achieved unique distinction in free-form carvings.
Mr. Riu has been honored by one-man exhibitions at Lehigh University, the Philadelphia Art Alliance, Woodmere Art Gallery, and the Allentown Art Museum. He has also exhibited at the Lehigh Art Alliance; P.A.F.A.; Detroit Institute of Arts; Phillips Mill and Parry Barn, New Hope, Pa.; New Hope Workshop; Baum Gallery; Pennsylvania National Ligonier Valley; the Second and Third Philadelphia Art Festivals; Everhart Museum, Scranton; Reading Art Museum; Moravian College; Cheltenham Art Center; Gallery 100, Princeton, N.J.; Kenmore Gallery; Meierhans Gallery; Muhlenberg College; and Blossom Art Festival, Kent State University, Kent, Ohio.
Mr. Riu has won numerous awards including the Alfred G. B. Steel memorial Award, P.A.F.A., 1958; Charles K. Smith Awards, 1959, 1966, and the Endowment Fund Prize, 1969, Woodmere Art Gallery; the Cooper Award, 1960, the Silver Award, 1965, and the Garland Award, 1966, Lehigh Art Alliance; Phillips Mill, third Patron Prize Awards, 1962, 1965; Baum School Call-Chronicle Prize, 1964.
Mr. Riu’s work is represented in the following collections: Museo Civico Revoltella, Trieste; Lehigh University; P.A.F.A.; Lehigh Cultural Center; Liberty Bell School, Coopersburg; Federal Savings and Loan, Philadelphia; Dieruff School, Allentown, Pa.; Woodmere Art Gallery, Chestnut Hill, Pa.; and private collections.
17 works exhibited
Allentown Art Museum
November 21 to December 31, 1964
Victor Riu is the master of his material. Under his hand, the blue-black granite of Coopersburg, hard and willful, becomes obedient and lyrical. Under the impact of his disciplined strength, mute stone becomes eloquent, harsh rock becomes ductile, mass becomes fluid, sheer weight becomes lightness.
There are no “happy accidents” in Riu’s work. There were also no accidents leading to his vocation. Born in 1887 in Trieste, on the Adriatic, this son and grandson of stone carvers and sculptors served his five-year apprenticeship at the Scuola per Capi d’Arte.
At the age of nineteen, Victor Riu worked on ornamental stone carvings for the new Grand Central Station and the New York Public Library buildings. Partnerships in granite companies in Vermont later afforded him opportunities to continue in ornamental design and carving and in the production of memorials used throughout the United States.
Since 1922, Riu has headed the Coopersburg Granite Company, where he developed techniques for the carving and polishing of the uniquely dense dark-toned granite of that area. In the course of his work, the sculptor was commissioned to develop in this medium sculptures designed by famous names such as Wharton Esherick and Jose de Rivera and to produce monuments in memory of Connie Mack, Sherwood Anderson and World War I memorials, including the Monument to the War Dead which may be seen in the Philadelphia Navy Yard.
In 1957 he executed in granite the design of Joseph Greenberg, Jr., a four-and-a-half ton Mother Bear and Cub which adorns the Philadelphia Zoo.
Victor Riu has received innumerable prizes and has had many one-man exhibitions culminating in the present one. His work is represented in many public and private collections and we are proud to present to the public of the Lehigh Valley a notable selection of this artist’s work, remarkable in its sense of lyrical inspiration and made more impressive by the most exacting technical fluency.
19 works exhibited

Lehigh University, Muhlenberg College, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Allentown Art Museum, Liberty Bell School, Coopersburg; Federal Savings and Loan, Philadelphia, Dieruff School, Allentown; Woodmere Art Museum, Kemerer Museum, Bethlehem; Lehigh Valley Health Network.

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following is from Peter Brozek, St. Paul, Minnesota:

Victor Riu came to the United States around 1917, having left his home in Trieste, Italy to escape the draft for World War I. When he first settled in New York City, he had a stone carving business on a barge on the East River. One project he had then was to carve all the Men's and Women's signs for the rest rooms on the BMT subway line.

At some time he moved to Vermont where he operated a granite quarry for several years. He left Vermont and settled in Coopersburg, Pennsylvania where he operated a quarry extracting Gabrogrannidiorite, a very black granite, primarily for gravestones. At the age of 60+ he decided that he had a skill in carving stone and should try to create something of beauty, so he began doing sculpture.

While trained in cutting stone, he had no formal art background. He produced sculptures with very sensuous lines, which exhibited an incredible ability to cut stone. The wings on the eagle at the Air Force Academy show this ability to sculpt fine lines. He produced a sculpture of a kneeling woman for his wife's grave and, fortunately, his children did not allow him to place it since it probably would have been stolen.

In the 60's my parents purchased a "Madonna" from Mr. Riu. As an art student in the late 60's, I went to Mr. Riu and asked him to teach me to cut stone. He agreed and told me that for the first 7-8 years I would only move pieces of stone so that I would get an appreciation for the material. Then, he would allow me to use the manual tools for 5-6 years before allowing me to try the pneumatic tools. Unfortunately, I was an impatient young person and did not take the opportunity.

(Editorial Note: The entry for this artist listing text from exhibitions gives Riu's arrival date as 1906 from both exhibitions sources, which makes it unlikely the sculptor came to the U.S. to escape the draft as this biography asserts).

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
From Italy where he studied, sculptor Victor Riu became a resident of Coopersburg, Pennsylvania where for many years he was a carver of gravestones for the family business, Coopersburg Granite Company.

The majority of his art pieces were carved from Coopersburg granite that he and his family quarried.  His work is at the Pennsylvania Academy, Lehigh University, and the Woodmere Art Gallery in Philadelphia.

He sculpted the black granite eagle that is in front of the Chapel at the Air Force Academy in Colorado, and he exhibited in Allentown and Bethlehem.

Sources include:
Peter Falk, Who Was Who in American Art
Corrections and additional information courtesy of Shannah Halper, descendent of the artist.

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