Enrico “Henry” Pinardi, an Italian-American artist and legendary RIC art professor, has left an impact on the lives of an extraordinary number of former students. Throughout his lifetime he has not only created recognizable and influential pieces of art, but also formed lifelong connections that have impacted the lives of many.
Born in 1934, Pinardi faced hardships growing up between Cambridge, Massachusetts and Sant’Ambrogio di Valpolicella and Verona, Italy, where living through polio and post-war European reconstruction helped him find his path to his unique, dark art.
“My work may veer away from the comfortable, but it is my sense that work should draw upon what is in the real world, even if it means the work is unsettling, or disturbing,” said Pinardi.
His pieces, most commonly oil paintings, drawings and wooden sculptures, feature representations of death, religion and his love for the sea. They have been featured in more than 20 solo exhibitions and collections in locations such as New York, Boston and Verona. Pinardi has been described as the “quintessential Italian artist of the twentieth century” by artist, critic and writer of the catalog essay, “Pinardi: the Metaphysical Paintings,” Paul T. Ngano.
Despite finding early success as a practicing artist, after completing his M.F.A. from RISD Pinardi found a new vocation as art professor at Rhode Island College.
“The kids were great – they were full of life and anxious to learn,” he reflected.
During his almost 30 years of teaching at RIC, he had a tremendous impact on his students, forging deep connections with a tightknit group who came to identify themselves as “Henry’s Kids.”
Pinardi not only understood students coming from working class families, he embraced their background. For many of these students, there was no model in their family for pursuing a career in art. “Most of them were the first in their family to attend college, like myself,” Pinardi said.
Pinardi accepted his students and treated them like family. “I got very close to a few young men who lost their parents at a young age,” he recalled. “We used to joke that I became like a father to them.”
Both in and outside of the classroom, he encouraged his students to be hands-on. Pinardi created the Art Club for students to partake in figure drawing activities outside of class. Venturing off campus, the club visited museums and exhibitions as far away as New York City.
Pinardi also created the RIC art auctions for students to raise money for their trips. These auctions not only helped students with the cost of trips, but also gave them exposure to professional art. These auctions are still an annual fall event at RIC.
“The students had the opportunity to buy teacher’s works for five to 10 dollars. These pieces could be worth hundreds of dollars,” said Pinardi.
Overall, this experience gave students an opportunity to grow as artists in a friendly, but competitive atmosphere outside of their coursework. As a result, for many students, Rhode Island College became the place that they started to believe in their talents as artists.
Each course with Pinardi gave students a unique classroom experience. “It was a department that was just starting, but little by little we improved the program,” he said. His classwork included courses like sculpting, woodworking, figure drawing and more. He often brought in his own materials from home, spending his own money to give students the opportunity to use quality supplies, providing those who couldn’t otherwise afford such materials a chance to explore.
In addition, Pinardi continued guiding his "kids" after graduation. He helped students get accepted into established master’s degree programs throughout the country and inspired them to travel abroad to create new experiences, encouraging them to follow their dreams.
Today, several of his former students remain in Rhode Island and have continued his legacy of growing the art community. Among them are local studio and business owners, nationally selling artists and art professors. Pinardi keeps in touch with at least 50 of them, having molded their passion for art, guided them in pursuing graduate education and encouraged them to believe in their talent
Heny Pinardi in his Hyde Park, Massachusetts home