The sweet sounds of Smokey Robinson, Al Green, and other classic R&B oldies filled the studio whenever Louie Spagnola was at NIAD.
Originally from Gilroy, California, Louie lived in the Bay Area for almost thirty years, was a Richmond resident and a NIAD artist for four years. He described his work as therapeutic, and as soul-giving as the music that played through his speaker.
Nestled between two mountains, Gilroy is a hot valley and home to the world-famous Gilroy Garlic Festival. Louie was half Italian and half Mexican, and grew up on the East side of town, where there is a predominant Mexican community. Louie said that his work was influenced by the Chicano culture with which he identifies.
Louie worked in several mediums at NIAD, including print-making and ceramics, but gravitated more towards drawing on paper and wood under the direction of NIAD Studio Facilitator Andrés Cisneros-Galindo. Recurring themes in Louie’s work include crosses surrounded by hearts and clouds, which he created with hand-cut stencils and shading. His crosses will also often have roses trailing upwards on them. When asked if he was a person of faith, Louie responded that he was. Beyond the religious iconography, however, the cross took on another special meaning for Louie.
The cross is a pillar that represented both his mother and his own inner strength. Louie’s mother, Francis Hail, was the loving matriarch of the family who passed away in 2018 after a long battle with an illness. The crosses reminded him of his mother and her unwavering resilience. After she passed, Louie stepped into the role as pillar for his brothers and sisters. In other works that he made, such as one of conjoined ceramic hearts, the hearts symbolized the eternal bond between Louie and his mother.
Louie said that he considered the people at NIAD as a second family, and that it offered him a lot of team-like support. He said that he looked forward to attending NIAD each week, and to learning new art techniques. Content with the cooler weather in the Bay Area, Louie never envisioned returning to live in Gilroy, but he faithfully honored his community, and—most importantly—his mother, in his artwork, and with the heartfelt music that he played.