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Program Type: Art Exhibit

A collection of works and memorabilia of Italian artist Maria Luisa Ugolini Bonta will be on display at Main until the end of August. 


Sometimes signs her name as:  M.L.Ugolini Bonta; M. Ugolini Bonta;  Maria Luisa Ugolini Bonta; Maria Luisa Bonta Ugolini


Maria Luisa Bonta Ugolini  OR Maria Luisa Ugolini Bonta  (May 3, 1918 - January 18, 1997) was an Italian painter born in Florence, Italy. American by marriage in 1959.

Maria Luisa Ugolini was the middle daughter of seven children born to Florentine writer and painter Luigi Ugolini. She had  one daughter, Vanna  Marie Bonta and one son Peter  Luigi Bonta.  She is the sister of Italian children's writer Lydia Ugolini.
   Her father recognized her talent when she was a child and became her first art teacher.
   Florence was Maria's native soil where she lived with her parents until in her thirties. Paintings, journals and her father's biography document her love for Florence, its history, culture, alleys and piazzas, opera, the Tuscan land, and neighboring Viareggio* where she vacationed yearly with her parents, brothers and sisters. She called these “i giorni felici” (the happy days) and described the family camaraderie was such that even her parents felt like peers to the seven children. Writer Ugolini read to them from his own prolific works and raised them on recitations of Dante Alighieri and stories of Percy Bysse Shelley, the British ex-patriate poet who had lived and died in Viareggio.
    Maria'a paintings and sketchbooks tell of enchantment with Nature and the world around her, and she painted   . As a young woman, she rode her bicycle all over Florence with paints, brushes and wooden boards* to find places to paint. Florentine shopkeepers allowed her to paint from the rooftops of the medieval buildings that line the Ponte Vecchio. She also found work hand-painting silk fabrics and scarves. In this period, her painting subjects were 14th century alleys, Tuscan landscape and some parts of pre-World War II Florence never to be seen again as they were destroyed in bombings.
During World War II, her father, author Luigi Ugolini was arrested for writing anti-fascist articles. During the American occupation of Italy, she met Cecil James Bonta, her future husband. The American officer’s friendship with the Ugolini family continued after the post-war years through written correspondence for years. Friendship between  Maria and the American officer blossomed into romance and eventually, more than five years later, marriage. It was through these years of letter writing, with the help of a little red English-Italian dictionary*  that Maria Luisa Ugolini had learned English as her second language. Family friend and colleague Pietro Annigoni was the best man at the wedding.
Maria Luisa Ugolini was the only member of her family to expatriate. In a biography, her sister Lydia Ugolini described that their father, Luigi Ugolini, could not speak for days from the grief of seeing his daughter move overseas to America. She also describes that moving to the United States was also difficult on Maria Luisa, who was "like a flower transplanted from her sunlight and water" of art and Florentine culture.
      After marriage, moving to the US and becoming a citizen in 1959, Maria Luisa  painted landscapes of the American South, New England and the California coast. In the 1960s, she traveled to Thailand, turning her expression to the beauty she found in Thai landscapes and still lives of exotic fruits. In the 1960s on, after settling in Alexandria, Virginia, Maria  prolifically painted spring and summer in American suburbia, bringing the tradition of European masters to the American neighborhood. She immortalized flowers, often growing her own "models."Her son Peter said her favorite flower was the sunflower. It was very special to her.
      Maria returned to Florence  for what was to be her last public exhibition at the Galleria 14 on October 1, 1979. The opening was attended by the literary  and art community, including her friend and colleague Pietro Annigoni who signed one of the gallery brochures of her sunflower painting with "Brava!"
Ugolini-Bonta dedicated the exhibition of blooming American suburban gardens to her "always loved and never forgotten" city, Florence. When she returned to the US, She was quoted, "My exhibit was both a tribute to my adopted country and to Florence, which has been called 'the city of flowers.''  The artist had contacted her daughter to name her paintings and find appropriate words to title her visual works.
       Maria left 150 oils, water colors and sketches that were driven by genuine passion for art and love of beauty. The artist bequeathed her work estate to the care of her daughter.
The artist was described as outspoken and forthright, and an individual who could not be indifferent to injustices. She kept a card on her refrigerator that read: "Vive la difference!" She used the expression as a creed in veneration of originality and to celebrate the diversity of individuals.
  During her lifetime, Maria Luisa Ugolini Bonta was a vocal advocate for restoration and preservation of Renaissance masterpieces and the legacy of the city of Florence.
        Per the artist's wishes, her body was returned to her beloved Florence and is interred at Porte Sante (Holy Doors) cemetery at the Basilica di San Miniato al Monte, Florence. The same place her father Luigi Ugolini was entered. Her tomb is etched with her message: "Viva Sempre Nella Gloria Della Verità": Alive Forever in the Glory of Truth.


    1* Vireggio vacations shown in photos of family album.

    2* Boards..........All 22 works here are on boards.

     3*  Little Italian/English Dictionary.    Represented in picture #5 and #7