Finding Beauty

Works from the Collection of Emanuel and Linda Wright

New York in the early 1950s was fertile ground for a new creative period in America. Writers, artists, actors and musicians all interacted and shared ideas in the East Village.

In the late 1940s, Emanuel Wright had just completed his service as a radio operator for the merchant marines in World War II and he and his wife, Linda settled into life in New York City. Living in Peter Cooper village, they socialized with creative people such as Ben Gazara, Arthur Miller, John Forsyth and Walter Matthau. While attending classes at Cooper Union, Emanuel Wright met Leo Amino becoming lifelong friends. Over the years, the Wrights acquired the most important private collection of Amino artworks, eventually giving three works to the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

The Wright’s collection of more than fifty works was largely acquired directly from the artist at his Watt Street studio where Amino created art in his kitchen, the limitations of which accounts for the intimate scale of his artistic output at the time. By 1959 the Amino family was splitting their time between New York and New Jersey and the Wrights had decamped the city for the Garden state. The Wrights and the Aminos continued their relationship begun in the city. Amino was an excellent cook and would host the Wrights often at his home in Glen Gardener. If skewers were needed for a barbecue or if a pickle fork was needed for condiments, Amino would carve them and the sculptures were used as simple tools fitting the need.

Linda Wright describes Amino as an artist who "found beauty where there was no beauty." The Wrights filled their home with Amino’s art, his works bringing aesthetic pleasure and serving as memories of the time of their creation. 

Leo Amino 1911–1989

Leo Amino was born in Taiwan in 1911 and spent his childhood in Tokyo. He traveled to the United States in 1929 where he pursued a degree at a Junior College in San Mateo, California. Two years later, Amino enrolled in a liberal arts program at New York University, completing only one year before taking a job with a Japanese wood importing firm that specialized in distributing pre-cut Macassar ebony to manufacturers. Intrigued by the qualities of the wood, Amino took samples home and experimented with carving them. Recognizing his talent, Amino enrolled in the American Artists School in New York in 1937 where he briefly studied direct carving techniques under Chaim Gross.

Amino’s work was exhibited in the 1939 World’s Fair in New York and he had his first solo exhibition one year later. One of the first American artists to use plastic, Amino began experimenting with the material as early as the 1940s. Amino taught at Black Mountain College in North Carolina from 1947-1950 and at Cooper Union from 1952-1977. Throughout his long career, Amino’s works exhibited sculptural prowess, a mastery of form and material imbued with human emotion. His work is in the permanent collections of several museums including the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

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