Alfonso Iannelli was arguably one of the most influential and yet overlooked artists of the Midwest. An Italian-American sculptor, artist, and industrial designer, his career ranged from illustrating Vaudeville posters to sculptures to co-designing buildings. Much of his work is scattered amongst landmarks, churches, and architecture in Park Ridge; thus Alfonso Iannelli leaves a permanent mark on the city where he settled for much of his adult life.


Iannelli was born in Andretta, Italy and was introduced to art at an early age from artists who would lodge at his parent’s inn. At ten years old, his family relocated to Newark, New Jersey, where he would eventually become formally trained underneath Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor behind Mount Rushmore. During his teen years he modeled figures for the New Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan, which would win him a scholarship to New York’s Art Students League.

Life and Artwork

Iannelli relocated multiple times throughout his early adulthood. By the time he was only eighteen, he had opened his own art studio in Manhattan. He also worked in Cincinnati before moving to Los Angeles. During his time in Los Angeles, Iannelli gained considerable attention for his work designing posters for Vaudeville performances at the Orpheum Theater.

His vibrant, colorful, and geometric designs were very distinctive and gave a simplified description of what acts would be. Iannelli considered cubism and geometry fundamental to art as opposed to being something new in that time period. He brought up how it is the oldest form in art, present in almost every culture’s ancient art.

An  example of Iannelli’s Vaudeville posters illustrate his use of triangles, lines, and simple shapes to convey different acts in a unique and eye-catching manner. Iannelli’s artistic debut in the Midwest was brought upon by his association and work with Frank Lloyd Wright. The two artists met through Wright’s son John and Iannelli was soon invited to contribute to the Midway Gardens project in Chicago. Iannelli contributed several sculptures of Sprite bottles–one of which is still on display in the Art Institute of Chicago. However, the two had a falling out after Wright assumed credit for Iannelli’s work. Iannelli never worked for Wright again. After the Midway Gardens project, Iannelli moved permanently to Illinois and began to work with architects Purcell and Elmsie. Although he was not an architect himself, his association with Barry Byrne allowed him to co-design multiple apartments, homes, and interior schemes. Iannelli designed buildings from the eyes of a sculptor as opposed to an architect, making his work all the more compelling. He also designed many sculptures and glass windows for Roman Catholic churches throughout the Midwest.

He and his wife Margaret established Iannelli Studios in Park Ridge, their own commercial art studio. The building is now occupied by the Kalo Foundation, a nonprofit organization which is “dedicated to preserving the rich artistic legacy of the city.”

Pickwick Theater

Iannelli’s work on the interior of the Pickwick Theater has a lasting mark on Park Ridge. His geometric style artistry is discernible in the mural and wall artworks of the inside of the theater.

Gate House

Iannelli also partially designed the Gate House in the Town of Maine Cemetery. The Gate House is a Park Ridge landmark and also serves as the cemetery’s office. The triangular structure shows Iannelli’s influence as well. The Gate House slightly resembles a church building, which also demonstrates Iannelli’s type of style.


Iannelli ultimately passed away in Park Ridge in 1965, his last commission being the Rock of Gibraltar relief on the face of the Prudential Building. While perhaps a lesser known artist, Alfonso Iannelli made a lasting contribution on the city where he worked and lived for over four decades.

This article was written by Sofia Martinez for the Park Ridge Historical Society.

There are several books written about Alfonso Iannelli and his work:

“Alfonso Iannelli: Modern by Design”, by David Jameson

“Everyday Modern: The Industrial Design of Alfonso Iannelli”, by David Jameson, Eric O’Malley, et. al

The Iannelli Studios Heritage Center is managed by the Kalo Foundation.  For more information visit their website: