It is with great sadness that I report on the recent death of a dear friend, the world-class ceramic artist and Udu drum maker Frank Giorgini, of Freehold, NY. He was 75 years old and had been undergoing treatment for cancer.
Frank and I first met in the mid-1980s when we both were teaching classes at the Harmanus Bleecker Center in Albany under the auspices of the Albany Institute of History & Art and the inimitable guidance of Monica Miller (also a wonderful artist). One of my favorite memories of that time was when we shared a two-person show at the Bleecker Center that featured Frank’s Udu drums and my photographs, all of it dusky and formal, a lovely pairing of sculpture and black-and-white pictures.
Frank was probably best known for his handmade and commercially manufactured clay pot drums, which are treasured by percussionists all over the world for their unique, earthy sounds and robust shapes, some exquisite examples of which are held in the permanent collection of musical instruments at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Frank used to proudly state that he was the only living person whose product was in that collection, though I suppose other living artists’ instruments may have been added after the fact. If not, then there are now none who can make that claim.
But Frank had equal impact in many other aspects of ceramic production, both in the commercial realm as a tile maker and in the fine art realm – though, in his case, the line between the two was fuzzy at best. Many will recognize his tile and mosaic installation in the Whitehall Street station of the Brooklyn BMT subway line, which was commissioned and installed in 2000. Entitled Passages, it traces the history of Manhattan backward in time using numerous airborne gulls as a unifying element (you can see many pictures of it here).
|A detail from Passages|
photo by Warren Sze
Most artists, no matter how talented, need something more in order to be successful – whether it’s a lucky break, an enthusiastic patron, or a trust fund. In Frank’s case, it was his congenial personality. Everyone liked Frank, and I can imagine no one who would have turned down an opportunity to work with him or support his vision.
One way he shared that vision was through teaching. He published books and instructional videos on tile making, and worked as an adjunct professor at Parsons design school in New York. Probably most important to Frank were the summer workshops he held at his Catskills home and studio for people of all ages and abilities who wanted to spend a little time in the country and learn how to build and fire an Udu drum.
Those two-weekend-long instructional experiences took place around Frank’s birthday, and always culminated in a grand potluck supper followed by a Bacchanalian bonfire, which naturally would be ringed by a large, happy throng of Udu-playing revelers. Though I never made an Udu drum, I stoked that fire nearly every year for decades, and danced around it with the best of them. Those Udu Fests will surely be among the most vivid – if slightly blurred – memories for many of Frank’s friends and fans.
Frank also was the proprietor, along with his partner, the great chef Ana Sporer, of Ruby’s Hotel, a delightful garden-to-table restaurant in Freehold that is expected to return to serving dinners after a period of mourning. As bartender and host at Ruby’s, Frank welcomed guests with his consistent good humor and, after dinner, he often shared a taste of his homemade limoncello, created using a recipe from his Italian ancestors, and as strong as it was sweet.
Above the restaurant was a gallery where, for many years, Frank mounted excellent shows of the best regional artists. The gallery was named in memory of another Frank, a close friend of the restaurant’s family and a supremely talented artist himself, who died way too young just before he was to have been the exhibition space’s inaugural director. I hope that the Broderick Gallery, too, will resume activities after a time, in loving memory of both Franks and their dedication to the joy of making and experiencing great art.
That and so much more remains as the legacy of one very fine person who also happened to be a brilliant artist, and a beloved friend to many.
The world was a better place with Frank Giorgini in it. May he rest in peace.
Note: If you’d like to get a taste of the amazing sound of the Udu drum, check out this extraordinary improvisation by Jacob Cole, a former workshop participant who posted it in Frank’s memory.
|Ana and Frank at Ruby's|
A very nice piece. Sorry for the loss to the community and you personally.ReplyDelete
So sorry, David. I remember him as a very friendly man and his amazing drums.ReplyDelete
Unfortunately we never made it to his famous drum parties in the Catskills.
May he Rest In Peace .
Oh dear, what a loss. His gifts to our world are manifold and will endure. Your tribute to him is beautifully written.ReplyDelete
What a touching and eloquent eulogy. Makes me remember all those good times so vividly. He was very special and he will be missed.ReplyDelete
Thank you for your kind words about my UncleReplyDelete
David, you ALWAYS have the words . I treasure the photo of dad w/ Frank's wife on the motorcycle outside of the restaurant. RIP Frank.ReplyDelete
A really great man. May you rest in peace.ReplyDelete
Frank had many gifts. I attended one of his summer Udu workshops: great fun & inspirational. His collection of Udus in his pottery barn (& recordings) is memorable.I hope his family passes this on to someone knowledgeable enough to care for & share it. He will be missed.ReplyDelete
So sad. His book on tile making and his class at Parsons was my introduction to the world of clay and it changed my life. Great guy, wonderful teacher.ReplyDelete
Beautiful remembrance of Frank (known to us as "G"), who I have known for 62 years. As a teen, Frank's house was the place for the parties. So was the Mary Jo, his father's boat was another place that we'd party, out in the Great South Bay. I knew him when he left for Villanova, only to leave that quickly for Pratt in Brooklyn. I remember the apartment on Washington Avenue, and the big acrylic paintings. There's so much more, including the wonderful get togethers in Freehold in the last decades. A nicer man never existed We made the obligatory cross-country trip in 1970 with a few friends, and those memories never get old. And, of course, the music of the udu drums, another wonderful chapter in Frank's life. Sail on , G. You are missed.ReplyDelete
I am saddened to learn of this. I spent a very special week at his workshop several years ago, traveling from the west coast, and as I read this wonderful commentary on his life I sit with 2 udus that I made there. I remember, being a camper on his property, playing many of his udus that he had at his studio in the evenings when I needed a break from rolling coils. Yes, the bonfire, the special teacher from Africa, Frank, his family, the magic of the space and time. My wife and I drove around the country this past fall, and as we passed through upstate New York in late September my wife suggested I look up Frank…ReplyDelete
As I get older, the lessons get harder, but become more clear…
Seize the day