Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Next Page: An Italian in Pittsburgh ... home at last - Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Born and raised in Italy, artist and architect Guglielmo Botter considers the Pittsburgh area his 'old country': the land of his mother and grandmother. He's decided to settle here and raise his family. Here's his story (with pictures):

In the middle of my life, I was attracted to the American dream. Not by chance I came to Pittsburgh -- a home to my ancestors and art.

My great-grandfather Frank Longaro came to Western Pennsylvania from Italy in the late 1800s to work as a miner. He went on to open a general store in Avonmore, Westmoreland County. His daughter, my grandmother, returned to Italy to marry. There, my mother Lyù was born in 1936 -- on July 4, by the way.

A U.S. citizen born abroad, she ended up in New York in 1946 with her American grandmother. My mother lived in Avonmore, where family continued operating my great-grandfather's store.

In high school, she won art awards, but chose to attend college in Venice, Italy, where she met my father. They soon fell in love. In 1957, she graduated and came back to the United States, where she lived for six years before marrying my father in Italy.

My father, Memi, was a good painter, sculptor, fresco-restorer and a professor in Venice. In Pittsburgh, my mother was a well-known painter and won many art awards. She even participated in the first Three Rivers Arts Festival. She finally returned to Italy in 1963 and settled just north of Venice, in Treviso, where I was born in 1966.

In 2009, despite being seriously ill, my mother decided to fly to Pittsburgh one last time, to visit the familiar places and people she loved so much. She died in 2010, as did my father.

From my parents, I have inherited the art of drawing. Since I was 5, I used an ink pen to draw my city. When I was 13, I won a national drawing contest among 350,000 participants.

I also drew my beautiful city from a bird's eye view in 1997 -- a pre-Google era when aerial views on the Web didn't exist. I climbed to the top of the bell tower and civic towers to sketch and take photos (no digital camera yet). I worked every day for four months.

My goal would be to do this in Pittsburgh.

I was in Pittsburgh for the first time in 1980 when I was 13 and returned several times over the years. Through my mother, I became a U.S. citizen. I've seen many changes in the urban structure, landscape, quality of life and, lately, the renaissance of Pittsburgh.

In 1980, it seemed that I couldn't clearly see the sun till afternoon because of the pollution.

I saw the crises of the late 1980s and 1990s after the steel mills closed. My mother's beloved Avonmore became a ghost town, shops and facilities closed and for sale.

At the end of the millennium when I returned with my wife, Paola, I was surprised by an unrecognizable, empty city center.

In 2005, Paola and I visited Pittsburgh with our young daughter. On that visit, I saw the first signs of economic revival.

This year, I finally brought my family to live here for the summer, to understand the way of life.

My mother was right: Pittsburgh is fascinating. People are friendly, and art is appreciated.

This is the place to raise my daughters (Rebecca, 9, and Sofia Melissa, 5). They both received certificates of U.S. citizenship on Aug. 14.

For the first time, I saw Pittsburgh with different eyes. We were here not for the holiday -- but to live as Pittsburghers.

In coming to live here, I am presenting my first impressions of the city and suburbs.

After many years of drawing Treviso, my father's city, I am now focusing on the city where my mother lived before she married him -- my second city.

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