LEO IRRERA
1927 - 2020
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IRRERA Leo Irrera (1927-2020) Sculptor, Educator, Art Coordinator of the United States Navy Memorial Leo Irrera, beloved husband, father, grandfather, teacher and noted artist, passed away at home on June 3, 2020, just short of his 93rd birthday. He leaves behind wife of 66 years, Eva; son, Joe (Rhonda); daughters, Maria (David); and Veronica (Rob); as well as grandsons, Corey (Jasmine); Evan; and Colin. Included in his fan club are several nieces, nephews and community of 42 years at Dahlgren Chapel, Georgetown University. He leaves our world a little colder, a lot quieter and with much less humor. Leo's peaceful departure for his next adventure is the fulfillment of a blessed life. Born in Brooklyn, NY, he and older sister Nina survived the Great Depression thanks to immigrant Sicilian parents, Joe and Rose. In 1945, at 17, he volunteered for the Seabees branch of the Navy and was deployed to the Pacific just as Japan surrendered-which was, he used to joke, because they saw him coming! Leo attended the School of Industrial Arts in Manhattan, NY and was first in his family to attend college-thanks to the GI Bill. He chose Rhode Island School of Design where he earned his BFA and won the heart of the most beautiful woman there; equally gifted painter and sculptor, Eva Amann. As a young husband and father, he earned his MFA from Indiana University, Bloomington, where he studied under the artists David Smith and Jack Tworkov. Leo employed his artistic skills and outgoing Brooklyn charm as a much-loved art teacher at Highland, NY and then Newburgh Free Academy, which soon led to his appointment as Art Director for the entire Newburgh, NY school system. Within this diverse but declining city, Leo developed one of the best four-year art curricula in the state. From a one-year sabbatical at Fordham University, studying new media with legends Marshall McLuhan, Ted Carpenter and Tony Schwartz, Leo won a Ford Foundation grant for Newburgh. He used the money to give his students the latest in video equipment, encouraging them to create productions out in their community. During this time, he accepted a commission, creating Stations of the Cross for St. Joseph's Catholic Church in his then home of New Paltz, NY. Leo moved on to the New York State Education Department, where he worked to bring cable TV to rural communities and help them develop local programming Relocating to Washington, DC in the late "70's, Leo returned to sculpture. A friendship and shared love of art with Monsignor Michael Farina brought an invitation to work from a basement studio in St. Patrick Catholic Church. As a lifelong Catholic, Leo returned to his first love, liturgical art, creating a garden fountain at St. Mary's Church in Annapolis, MD; a large crucifix and St. Thomas More marble statute inside St. Patrick's; then a larger version of that statue for University of St. Thomas More Law School in Minneapolis, MN. Through Monsignor Farina, Leo was again called to the Navy. Captain Robert Jones and Admiral Bill Thompson of the US Navy Memorial foundation invited him to coordinate the creation of 26 bronze bas-reliefs for a new memorial along Pennsylvania Avenue. Leo hired all the artists; focusing on those from his RISD days, but also giving younger artists, with shorter resumes, a big opportunity. You can view Leo's work with six of those reliefs, as well as a stained glass and sculpture window in the memorial visitors' center. Other international commissions for the Navy followed; his bronze reliefs for the Inchon Landing Memorial, South Korea; and Operation Tiger Memorial, Slapton Sands, England. (Please visit www.irrerastudioarts.com for more of Leo's work.) In leu of a funeral, Leo had requested we scatter his ashes over his favorite sandy knoll off the deck of our Martha's Vineyard summer home. Then... As he used to say with that big smile, "Let's have a few people over!" A memorial service will be held at a future dateIn leu of a funeral, Leo had requested we scatter his ashes over his favorite sandy knoll off the deck of our Martha's Vineyard summer home. Then... As he used to say with that big smile, "Let's have a few people over!" A memorial service will be held at a future date

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Published in The Washington Post on Jul. 31, 2020.
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July 31, 2020
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