Leo Politi - Artist of the Angels
Atiglio Leoni Politi (1908 - 1996) was an American artist and author who wrote and illustrated children’s books. Born in Fresno to Italian-American parents, he went to live in Italy at the age of seven. Even at that young age, he was constantly drawing. He and his sister briefly lived in London where they would take in all the museums and theatre the city had to offer.
Politi formally trained in fine arts, and at the age of 22 migrated back to California. Passing through the Panama Canal, he was highly intrigued with the Mayan culture and developed a palette of ochre yellow, burnt Sienna, and a number of browns “symbolic of the warmth and earthy qualities of life and vegetation of the tropical Central Amercan jungle.” He also used a lively blue-green to represent the water, sky, and precious stones, all elements of the Maya civilization.
Politi was proficient in many media: oil, watercolor, wood carving, wood engraving, lithography, and book illustration. In addition to illustrating other writer’s children’s books, Politi worked as an art editor for magazines. He also began drawing and painting from a regular spot on Olvera Street where he sketched tourists and sold drawings alongside other artisans and residents. One of his favorite subjects was the free-spirited children of Olvera Street. His affinity for Mexican-Americans was genuine; he found commonality with their religion, himself being an Italian Catholic.
The Catholic Library Association presented Leo Politi with the Regina Medal of excellence in 1966 for his continued, distinguished contributions to children’s literature.
Founding member, Renny Day, remembers meeting Leo Politi when he received our first FOCAL Award. “Leo Politi was memorable for his modesty! ‘I thought the audience would be disappointed at just seeing me up here, so I brought some friends from Castelar St. Elementary School.’ And with that he introduced a group of school children who set up a portable stage and performed a puppet show - the audience was enchanted! Lara (Clardy) provided punch and cookies, and everyone was happy!” Also, Leo was so pleased to receive the first FOCAL Award that he asked if there was anything he could do for the newly formed group. We needed a letterhead, and he quickly sketched one and gave it to us - the same letterhead we use today!
Please enjoy this lovely quote from Leo Politi, “From a playground we watch the children play. Some are light, others dark—but they are all beautiful.”
Article and Portrait by FOCAL Board Member Michele Marot