By Kathy Chouteau
Richmond’s NIAD Art Center is mourning the passing of one of its artists, Louie Spagnola (1971-2023), whose presence in the studio often was accompanied by the tunes of Smokey Robinson, Al Green and other classic R&B music, per NIAD.
NIAD asked community members to remember Spagnola by exploring an online exhibition of his artwork in its virtual gallery and to “keep his family in your thoughts, listen to his sound recordings and think of Louie Spagnola next time Smokey comes on the stereo.” The progressive art studio for adult artists with developmental disabilities also shared some background on the late Spagnola.
The center said Spagnola spent his early years in Gilroy and was of Mexican and Italian descent, with his art often being influenced by Chicano culture. He went on to live in the Bay Area for nearly thirty years, becoming a Richmond resident and NIAD artist for four years. NIAD said Spagnola described his work as “therapeutic and as soul-giving as the music that played through his speaker.”
NIAD recalled Spagnola explored various art mediums, including print-making and ceramics, but under the direction of NIAD Studio Facilitator Andrés Cisneros-Galindo he often drew on paper and wood. Crosses surrounded by hearts and clouds, and roses climbing upwards, created with hand-cut stencils and shading, were themes that recurred in his art work.
While Spagnola identified as a person of faith, the center said the cross in his work was a pillar that represented both his mother, Francis Hail—who passed away following a long illness—and his own inner strength. Spagnola felt he became a pillar for his siblings upon her death, said NIAD. The hearts in his work represented his mother’s unwavering resilience.
Along with his birth family, Spagnola considered the people at NIAD to be his second family, per the center, and said that it offered him team-like support when he visited on a weekly basis and learned new art techniques.
NIAD said that, aside from celebrating Spangola via his art, it has placed pictures of him and other artists and loved ones on the center’s Día de los Muertos altar in the studio. NIAD Art Center is located at 551 23 St. in Richmond. View Spagnola’s art here.