Lucia Vernarelli was born December 13 1920 in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, the youngest child of an Italo-American family, her father a tailor, her mother a seamstress. She had an early interest in art and began attending an after-school drawing class at the age of thirteen.
After high school she moved to Manhattan to study painting at the American Artists School, where while modeling for a life study class she met her future husband, Ernst Hacker, a refugee from Nazi-controlled Vienna. He, already an accomplished woodcut artist with an interest in the north European moderns (the Worpswede group, particularly Paula Modersohn-Becker, was to be an influence on Vernarelli), was soon to be stationed in Japan with the American Army. There he met and studied printmaking with Koshiro Onchi, whose work and friendship was to remain an influence on Hacker and Vernarelli. Their collection of modern Japanese woodblock prints was the subject of a 1996 exhibition at the British Museum that detailed the visit of Hacker to Tokyo. The collection, along with a large selection of prints by Hacker, remain in the collection of the British Museum, a gift made by Vernarelli shortly before her death.
Traveling in Italy with Hacker, who was studying town planning on a Fulbright Fellowship, she added another abiding interest to her artistic life in the work of the early Renaissance and the architecture of the old Italian cities--Florence and Venice in particular.
Her collages and monotypes of recollected views of these places stay in the memory as privileged glimpses of magic spaces removed from us by historic time and unsullied by the clichés of modern technology and travel.
In 1958 Vernarelli designed the sets and costumes for a ballet set to Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite, which was presented at the inaugural season of the Spoleto Festival of Two Worlds. The sets were based on her work in collage, a group of which were the subject of a one-person show in Florence at that time.
During the 1950s and 1960s she lived with Hacker in a skylighted loft at 146 Fifth Avenue. Here she developed her painting, which among many facets included her belief that the right mark or brushstroke had a magic that no amount of work could achieve. This quality and a balance between the real, from which she always began, the particular demands of the medium and the abstract inform her more advanced work.
In the late 60s, now living independently at 109 Waverly Place, indignant with the American war in Vietnam, she joined the Greenwich Village Peace Center, located nearby at the Washington Square Methodist Church.
Now her commitment to the use of art to serve the common good took flower in the many posters and leaflets she produced for peace marches and antiwar rallies. This work culminated in a series of six panels for the doors of that church. Working within the narrow confines of the old red doors, she created a work that sprang not only from her heartfelt sympathy for the besieged people but also from the frescos of the Tuscan churches she had so often studied. The panels, sadly damaged by revelers during the nation’s bicentennial, were removed in 1976 .
In 1974 Hacker retired from the City Planning Commission to a condominium he purchased at 15 Piazza dei Ciompi in Florence, where he and Lucia had many friends dating back to the first travels they had made together after the war; and Lucia took over the apartment in Westbeth, where they had been among the first group of artist residents in that state-supported artists housing.
Dividing her time now between Florence and New York, she did some collaborative woodblock printing with Hacker and made a series of lithographs at the Westbeth Printmaking Workshop. These lithos, done with ink on metal plates, proved to be an excellent vehicle for her sensitive brushwork and imaginative yet perceptive vision.
At this time she exhibited at the Westbeth Gallery, of which she was director for a period.
Always interested in the portrait, Vernarelli worked on paintings of friends and often casual acquaintances throughout her life. With this subject matter she created many works that touched on the psychological and the representative without resorting to caricature, which so often haunts twentieth-century portraiture.
Her still lifes, with an occasional nod to Morandi and Bonnard, were truly her own. Her cast of characters--tea tins, mirrors, fans--so familiar to visitors to her studio, took their place in the work as abstract elements never becoming stock shapes and colors but transforming to serve the needs of each particular composition.
Collage was for her an addiction; she squirreled away scraps of colored paper, stamps, and tinsel, which she used in a tiny theater of ephemera where she could lose herself in a childlike trance. Once seen, this world is as memorable and idiosyncratic as a Jackson Pollock.
Her life was cut short on april 30,1995 by a misdiagnosed malady. Vernarelli will be remembered not only for her artistic achievements but also for the intensity of her commitments to friends and causes alike. Her ashes were scattered over Pelham Bay on Long Island Sound.