“It seems incredible that an artist, with an international reputation, lived the last 30 plus years of his life as a virtual unknown in Rhode Island. Guido Nincheri has been called the Michelangelo of North America. While he is celebrated as a sculptor, fresco painter, and interior designer, he is probably the most prolific American stain glass artist in modern times.
Born in Tuscany, he trained as an artist in Florence, Italy; and by 1915, he emigrated to Montreal, Canada. His grandson has estimated that Guido decorated at least 100 churches in North America by World War II. Nincheri’s output is outstanding as evidenced by the attached copies of paintings, drawings, and the massive stain glass works, some of which occupy 500 square feet.
To celebrate the 1929 Lateran Treaty creating Vatican City, Guido was ordered to paint an equestrian portrait of Italian dictator, Mussolini, in a Montreal church. By 1940, this piece was perceived as suspicious by the wartime Canadian government. Therefore, they exiled the artist to a detention camp for three months. Disillusioned, Nincheri moved to Woonsocket, RI where he was given a commission to decorate the then French-Canadian St. Ann Church, on Cumberland Road, with a fresco painting cycle that rivals the size of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. Nincheri’s imaginative artistic scheme balances Old Testament themes and prophets with stories about Christ and the apostles.
In this church, now the St. Ann Cultural Center (open for tours and events), Nincheri used parishioners as models for the fresco’s angels and saints. His stain glass windows dominate the church. He also decorated 12 other RI churches. As a grateful tribute to his city, Guido Nincheri donated his talents in the 1950s by creating at least 10 large murals that hang in the Roger Williams Park Museum. He even designed a nearby large equestrian statue of the Polish hero, Casimir Pulaski, a hero of the American Revolution. The city of Providence, RI then ordered that Guido Nincheri become an honorary citizen of this town.
Today, Montreal memorializes Nincheri with a large park and museum, while Canada has produced a popular Christmas postage stamps with his design. According to his 1973 obituary in the New York Times, the Vatican honored Nincheri as being “the outstanding religious artist” for at least four separate occasions by Pope Pius XI. By the time Nincheri died in 1973, the Republic of Italy rendered him a special honor.
In light of his vast artistic opus and the tributes from Italy, Vatican City, Canada, and the city of Providence, I feel that Guido Nincheri should be included into the RI Heritage Hall of Fame.
Prof. John J. Parrillo