In Memoriam: Aldo Casanova, 1929-2014

Aldo Casanova, a professor emeritus of art at Scripps College, passed away Sept. 10 after a long illness. He will be remembered for his devotion to his craft, his genius in his field and his role as mentor to hundreds of students, professors and artists around the world. He was 85.

Casanova began working at Scripps in 1966, joining the campus in the early stages of the counterculture movement. His works, mostly sculptures, were daring and brilliant—avant-garde blends of bronzed human, animal and abstract designs. 

His pieces have been featured in galleries across the country, from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art to the National Academy of Design in New York. Some line the neighboring Murphy Sculpture Garden of University of California, Los Angeles, and six of his works can be found interwoven across the Scripps campus.

Throughout his 33 years on Scripps’ campus, Casanova taught a host of courses from Beginning Drawing to Advanced Sculpture. Many students recall his openness as his greatest virtue. Casanova was known for giving himself to any student in need of advice, instruction or even a space to work in.

Amy Ellingson SC ’86, whose paintings have been showcased in galleries throughout the United States, recalled Casanova’s kindness in an email to TSL.

“During my junior or senior year, he allowed me to use his office—his Scripps campus office!—as my personal sculpture studio,” she wrote. “And of course, he opened his own studio to his students, so that we could see his work in progress. His generosity was unbounded.”

Similar stories echo from other former students. Elizabeth Turk SC ’83, best known for her innovative marble sculptures as well as her work redesigning the manhole covers at Wolfe’s Pond Park, Staten Island, N.Y., offered praise of her own.

“Ten years or more after I graduated, I called for his advice on graduate school and whether to be an artist and without any communication in the interim … he was the most amazing advocate,” Turk said. “Without any doubt, he was walking a journey by my side for those really tough years when you’re filled with self-doubt.”

As a teacher, Casanova implored his students to learn and act with confidence and to find the meaning behind their own projects. His classes were very much hands-on, allowing his students the space and opportunity to find their own motivation and artistic vision.

But Casanova’s greatest trait was that he did not limit his students to the study of art; he engaged them in the study of life. In his classes, students often found themselves enthralled with discussion of the larger art world—what it encompasses, how it was shaped. He increased his students’ critical thinking skills, their confidence and, most of all, their artistic appreciation.

As for his own artistic appreciation, Casanova found great peace in nature. 

“The environment plays a part in everything I do,” Casanova said in a 2009 interview with the magazine of Inter Valley Health Plan. “Nature holds the clues to our existence … My work is an attempt to transmit the beauty of nature. It’s purely inspirational.”

While Casanova may be gone, his legacy of advocacy, exploration and inspiration lives on.

“He was blind to barriers,” Turk said. “That was the confidence that he just produced. It was amazing … I miss him. But I think it was a life well lived because of all of us that cherish him.”

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