Artist Henry LaCagnina
Issue: 2021/03 – March
Nationally-celebrated artist Henry LaCagnina left his mark in his summer community of Highlands.
20th Century painter Henry LaCagnina was commissioned by President Roosevelt in the Great Depression to use his estimable artistic talents to revitalize Key West, Florida.
His mission: document images of the people, land, wildlife, and culture. His contribution was supported by the WPA (Works Progress Administration), which employed thousands of artists and writers. Decent work in difficult times offered a godsend of $50/month. Imagine.
LaCagnina’s representations of island life renewed the spirits of the locals, intrigued others across the land, and helped preserve history.
Over his 70-year career he worked in a variety of mediums. He was a fifth-generation Italian church painter. In 1943, he, among 350 other invited artists, designed posters for the war effort. That body of work was exhibited in the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. You can find LaCagnina pieces in the collections of the Fords, Mellons, and many other well-known patrons.
Over his lifetime LaCagnina was a gallery owner, a muralist, educator, industrial designer, art jurist and fine artist. From 1975-80 he summered in Highlands, where he fascinated many with his furniture design/crafting and his colorful enamel work. He was best known in the area for hand-painted enamels depicting the Life of Christ on the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation’s doors and windows. He even designed an enameled shield as a wedding gift for local archivist and historian Ran Shaffner and his wife Margaret.
He continued his craft until his passing at 94. His legacy adorns private homes and public buildings nationwide in the form of hand-carved and enameled doors, decorative furniture, and colorful murals.
Learn more about the fine artists who summered in Highlands (or called it home). Make a date with Ran Shaffner’s Heart of the Blue Ridge for some serious thumbing, perusing, and/or down-home studying. Go to highlandshistory.com or email [email protected].