Subject: Flora B. Giffuni, 1919 – 2009
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
Flora B. Giffuni, founder of the Pastel Society of America, passed away early September 10, 2009 at 3:30 A.M. in New York City. In October she would have celebrated her 90th birthday. At this time we have no news of the family’s plans.
Rae Smith, PSA President and invited speakers will give tribute to Flora’s life on Sunday, September 13, 2009 at 4 P.M. at the opening of the 37th Annual “Pastels Only” Awards Ceremony. In keeping with Flora’s wishes and spirit, the Awards Ceremony will be held as usual and on schedule.
Friends wishing to share their appreciation of Flora will be given the opportunity to speak during the Annual Dinner following the Awards Ceremony.
On the occasion of the 2004 founding of the Giffuni Gallery of American Pastels at the Butler Institute of American Art, Butler director Dr. Louis A. Zona said “If the world of art had such designations [as ‘patron saints,’] Flora Giffuni would be deemed the ‘Patron Saint of Pastels.’ I say that, not just because of her founding of the Pastel Society of America and other good works on behalf of the medium and practitioners of the medium, but also because of her other mission which is to give the art of pastel the kind of recognition and honor that it deserves. She has been tireless in her efforts to promote and to educate, demonstrating a missionary-like zeal as she works to raise the art of the American pastel to greater levels of recognition.”
In her interview with Mrs. Giffuni for the Spring 2004 issue of Pastelagram, Diane Rosen observed that Flora had been “successfully making art, teaching art and promoting art . . . since she first fell under its spell as a girl of twelve. Although she knew her chosen path at an early age, a very different future had been planned for her by her father, Dr. Baldini [who] expected her to follow him into the medical profession. Wanting to please him, the talented and extremely bright young lady studied pre-med for ne year. It didn’t work. ‘I adored that man and I tried, but I hated it – hated it.” Flora, born in Naples and brought to this country as a child, “was the only surviving child of four children; her parents had lost three sons.”
Rosen described Flora as being “…single-mindedly determined not to let any obstacles get in the way of her goals. There was sadness but also passion in her voice as she related the conflict behind [the] early, watershed decision to pursue art. It is the same indomitable spirit that drives her to meet challenges head-on . . .”
After leaving pre-med, Flora earned a degree in art from New York University and an MFA from Columbia University. She traveled extensively in Europe, including her birthplace in Italy, got married, and by getting up and painting in the middle of the night, managed to work at being a fine artist while raising three children.
In the late 1960s, Flora met and began studying with renowned artist and teacher Robert Brackman at the Art Students League. “Brackman was a champion of beauty in its classic forms, as well as an advocate of the brilliant use of color and, significantly, of the pastel medium. He influenced yet another turning point in Flora’s career. She gave up using oils and dedicated herself to pastel.”
As Flora explained, “I realized how few people knew about or respected pastel, so it became my life’s mission to do something about correcting that.” Her concern became even greater when, in the early 70s, the American Watercolor Society, which had been including pastels in its annual exhibition, banned them from future shows “because they were winning too many awards.” It was then that Flora was encouraged to start her own organization and stage pastel exhibitions at the National Art Club. Winners from the first two shows formed a Board of directors and the Pastel Society of America was officially established in 1972. Inspired by PSA’s success during the past 37 years, there are now more than 60 pastel societies across the U.S.
Ever the educator, Flora guided PSA in establishing a “Pastels Only” school. Originally founded in 1989, the school was recently named the Flora B. Giffuni Atelier for Pastels. She continued to teach at the school until just a few years ago. She also created a highly informative lecture series on the history of pastels that she presented to art groups around the country. In 2005, concerned about the decrease in art education in the public schools, Flora initiated a program to offer instruction in pastel to inner city student in two New York city public high schools – Washington Irving High School and Marta Valle Secondary School – with the hope of inspiring a new generation of pastel artists and encouraging other concerned individuals and groups to follow her lead.
In 2004, Flora Giffuni realized one of her greatest goals. She said, “My dream and my search for a permanent home for pastels went on for years.” That dream became a reality with the opening of the Giffuni Gallery of American Pastels at the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio.
As Diane Rosen noted, “Spanning the amazing trajectory of her involvement in the arts, [Flora Giffuni’s] most tireless efforts have not been spent in service of her own personal career, but in the advancement of schools, organizations, galleries and other opportunities for her fellow artists. She is hopeful that the direction of art in general is ”coming into a period of sanity, a return to some concept of quality.”
Image Credit: “Flora B. Giffuni” by Joe Hing Lowe, pastel