Silvio Thought of his work as a "Guide for Life"
Silvio Barile (1938 – 2019)
Italian American Historic Artistic Museum, Silvio's Rita Pizzeria, Galleria Belle Arti/Cultural Center
Art Type or Medium: Environment/Installation; Sculpture
Secular or Religious: Secular with Religious aspects
Silvio Barile recalled hiding as a young boy from Allied bombing with his parents and siblings in the mountains around their south central Italian village of Ausonia. They “lost everything,” and in the mid-1950’s, came to America as WWII refugees. Hardly a prototypical ‘outsider’ artist, Barile went on to live the American Dream: he married, raised a family, and operated a successful pizzeria and bakery just west of Detroit for more than 40 years. His pizza is fondly remembered, but no doubt Silvio’s gregarious, burst-out-in-song personality helped bring customers into the restaurant’s immersive decor. Hung in floor-to-ceiling collages around concrete sculptures and displays of grocery items for sale were reproductions of Italian master painting, Renaissance and Greco Roman sculpture, photographs of Popes, Pavarotti and family, figurines, and – along with lots of other stuff – explanatory hand-written signs. After it closed for food service in 2002, Silvio’s Rita Pizzeria became an expansion of his adjacent former grocery-storefront: the Italian American Historical Artistic Museum.
A monument-sized sculptural statue of a much-needed “Caesar Augustus for America” stands in waiting just outside the back door of the pizzeria. Although Silvio made sculptures of gratitude for his adopted country, he also decried the moral decline of American society as measured against the Roman Catholic ideals of his heritage. His house was a short walk from the restaurant and he filled the approximately one acre wooded area between with concrete, stone, and found object sculptures, mostly from mythology and Italian history: art is a “guide for life,” and is “too important to sell.” Sometimes up to 8 meters high, he valued the permanence of classical stone carving, and had begun sculpting his second Mona Lisa in June 2018. Silvio was disappointed that most visitors were more interested to hear him sing than in the heartfelt messages of his artworks. During a walk through his sculpture garden, he once paused to say, “I must be crazy to do all this,” but he hoped his steadfast admonishments – intentionally preserved in the materials of Roman architecture – would endure…