Artist Recalls Being Inspired at Iannelli Studios in Park Ridge

Katy Ralph, Art Gallery Director of Nicolet College in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, recalls her childhood at Iannelli Studios Heritage Center where she lived when her father worked with Alfonso Iannelli.

One morning when she was five or six years old, Katy Ralph was sitting with her father at the Iannelli's dining room table—a Frank Lloyd Wright dining table—she recalls.  “I was drawing as I often did,” says Ralph who today is Art Gallery Director of Nicolet College in Rhinelander, Wisconsin.  “Mr. Iannelli came in and offered me a nickel for my picture,” remembers Ralph who said that she shyly accepted the payment. Because she remembered that he was often very gruff, Ralph says “This act of kindness stuck out in my memory!”

Ralph who moved with her family from Wisconsin in 1957 when her dad came to work for Iannelli remembers living in the studio apartment that today is still part of the studio complex.  “My parents had known Alfonso as well as Ruth Blackwell since the 1930s.  My mom and Ruth were dear friends,” said Ralph who added that after Alfonso and Ruth both died, Fons, Iannelli’s son, asked the Ralph family to come back and take care of the house.  (Ruth Blackwell was an artist who lived and worked at the studio from the 1920s until her death in 1966)  “We lived there for another three years from 1966 to 1969. 

Attending Field, Lincoln and Maine South, Ralph’s career as a fine artist was born during those years in Park Ridge when she recalls that she was a consummate doodler who took all the art classes she could.  “When we lived at the studio, I had the place to myself at night and would turn the stereo up and draw or invent new dance moves.”

Ralph who learned of the efforts of The Kalo Foundation to save Iannelli Studios Heritage Center on the Internet, contacted Betsy Foxwell several months ago to let her know that she had Iannelli memorabilia bequeathed to her by Fons Iannelli to donate to the center.  Recently, she traveled from Rhinelander to bring—among other things—the Iannelli Family Bible.  “I’ll be back as soon as I can put together some additional things,” said Ralph as she walked through the place that had such an influence on her life.  “The memories are flooding back—just washing over me.”    

The Park Ridge studio of noted artist Alfonso Iannelli, who helped design the world famous Pickwick Theater, was the subject of a successful grass roots campaign to rescue it from demolition.  Selected for the National Trust for Historic Preservation's 2011 This Place Matters Community Challenge, this "treasure beyond measure" was integral to the roots of American modernism and was featured earlier this year on Chicago Tonight.  You can find out more about Iannelli and his contributions to the world of art at featured on that show at


“Once restored, Iannelli Studios could be to Park Ridge what the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio is to Oak Park bringing people from all over the world who are interested in the roots of American Modernism to our town to spend their time and money,” said Betsy Foxwell, president of The Kalo Foundation which spearhead the preservation effort.  “It will serve as a focal point to tell not only the story of Alfonso Iannelli, and his wife Margaret, but the larger narrative of the artists’ colony that flourished at the turn of the 20th Century and beyond.”

Contributions for ongoing restoration are being accepted by the Kalo Foundation; P.O. Box 791, Park Ridge, Illinois 60068.  Donations may also be made online at www.kalofoundation.org. For further information, call 847-823-5314.

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BMG Media Services November 24, 2011 at 12:04 PM
Karen has been a wonderful story teller for the rich history of Park Ridge. She was one of those helping preserve the history through the Historic Tours of Park Ridge and the recent, successful effort to save the Iannelli Studiio and Home for future generations. Congrats to her and the Kalo Foundation for this outstanding effort.


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