Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth

The Brooklyn Paper
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Ask not what Brooklyn can do for you, but what you can do for Brooklyn.

The sentiment was dear to the heart of prolific late Carroll Gardens restorer and sculptor Santo Matarazzo [1929-2008], who wielded his hands more than his mouth,and was willing to donate the masterpieces he had painstakingly crafted over the years to the borough which had been the Sicilian immigrant’s adopted home for more than half a century.

The artisan, who had spent the better part of his life helping secure Carroll Gardens’ architectural dignity by renovating its brownstones and salvaging its signature fixtures, was granted his dying wish last week when Green-Wood Cemetery dedicated, next to his grave, his exquisite statue of St. Michael the Archangel.

The sculpture is among several Mr. Matarazzo wanted to gift to Brooklyn, only there were no takers. Boggling indeed, given the scope, vision and beauty of his work, which includes images of Mother Teresa and 20-feet-high Paul Bunion boots.

His impressive portfolio, most of which he crafted in his mid-to-late 70s, is as much a testament to his skill as it is to the realm of artistic creativity where the true trailblazers are also its humblest laborers. Sadly, his crusade to furnish, free-of-charge, the borough’s nooks and crannies with even one of his statues or busts of historical and local notable figures remains unfulfilled, even though his effigy of William Floyd, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, is proudly mounted at the William Floyd Estate in Mastic Beach, LI, and his bust of composer Pietro Floridia is on show at the Teatro of Modica in Sicily.

At local civic meetings of the Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association, Mr. Matarazzo sought to give to Carroll Park his statue of its namesake Revolutionary War hero, Charles Carroll, the only Roman Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence. The venerable piece was refused because financing a pedestal, apparently, was too costly for a tony neighborhood where apartments rent for $2,200 a month.

Interestingly, a random survey by this column revealed that not one of the 10 Brooklyn residents quizzed knew who Carroll Park was named after.

Evidently, local mover-shakers and other fat-trouts-in-little-ponds are not bothered about preserving the riches admirably volunteered by some of its staunchest advocates, nor in gilding this world-famous borough for residents, visitors and future generations with beautiful, lasting works of art by one of its own.

Else, Borough President Marty Markowitz would have graciously and gratefully accepted Mr. Matarazzo’s polite offering of his Martin Luther King, Jr., sculpture, which he wanted to have erected in front of the State Supreme Court building in Downtown Brooklyn where he, correctly, thought it would make a fitting statement next to the existing bronze bust of Robert F. Kennedy %u2013 a hope he had communicated to Borough Hall before his death last year at the age of 79, to no avail.

Lawmakers will always be politically motivated to do the wrong thing on the taxpayer’s dime, such as commissioning expensive and ugly artwork, sometimes even from Europe. In a society that dismisses seniors as has-beens, Mr. Matarazzo’s age was clearly an obstacle when it came to securing golden opportunities for his lifetime’s work. An indicting contradiction indeed to City Hall’s much-hyped Age-Friendly New York City Report, compiled in conjunction with a global campaign by the World Health Organization to make cities a better place in which to grow old, containing 59 different initiatives %u2013 but excluding the main one about making old and accomplished elders just plain happy while they are still alive.

Santo Matarazzo was a proud, devoted and masterful boroughite, whose works should be on public display in his beloved Brooklyn %u2013 particularly and posthumously in Carroll Park, and preferably with a pomp-filled ceremony %u2013 not only because they will help write new chapters of local history, but because they are simply wonderful works of art to admire and reflect upon the greater meaning of life.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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