Family tradition takes shape in craftsman’s hands
December 23, 2012
Mike Menegazzi is a man of many artistic creations, producing plein-air paintings and continuing the terrazzo tradition of his father and grandfather before him.
Like his family's history with the composite material, terrazzo flooring or wall covering has an impressive longevity, often outlasting the lifespan of a building.
"I get the marble from one mountain, cement from another area, and we can put those two materials together to make the finished product to be used by the public for decades," Menegazzi said. "I find that rewarding."
Menegazzi was born in Rochester, N.Y., and at age 7 moved to Los Angeles, his city of residence until he and his wife, Pam, moved to Grass Valley in 2007.
"I got to chatting with a traveler in the Long Beach Airport, and he told me about how wonderful Grass Valley was," Menegazzi said. "We ended up visiting, and long story short, three days later we put an offer in on what is now our home."
Menegazzi began terrazzo work in 1959 at the age of 19, working with his father.
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"I worked my whole life and did some personal contracting for about 14 years," Menegazzi said.
In total, Menegazzi has spent 52 years working with terrazzo, which is stone aggregate inside cement, which is ground and polished after it is hardened.
He is semi-retired but still has an active account in Los Angeles, where he does plaque work for Eagle Rock High School, a project that brings little money but is enjoyable.
"I make it here and then take it down," Menegazzi said. "I enjoy the feeling of working in conjunction with students."
The plaque work for the high school had been going on since 1926 by a man who has since passed away, then a local terrazzo maker took over until his own death. Menegazzi and a friend picked up the project in 1996, making a plaque each year for the graduating class and restoring old plaques.
'… one-of-a-kind, unique experience'
Menegazzi was a terrazzo instructor and trainer and worked on various projects, including display work for the National Training Center for Bricklayers Union in Fort Ritchie, Md., and work for the Smithsonian with the Masters of the Buildings Arts program in 2001 and Masonry Variation show in 2003 and was also on display at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., in 2004.
The Masonry Variation show included four rooms with different new-age types of artwork.
"Mine was a terrazzo floor that undulated like a wave, approached the end and gradually turned upward, and the terrazzo became stone," Menegazzi said. "It was pretty interesting — a one-of-a-kind, unique experience."
Menegazzi has installed terrazzo in hundreds of grocery stores and shopping malls, cathedrals, churches, school libraries and renowned libraries, including the Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George Bush presidential libraries.
"I personally built, shipped and flew down the design work for the George Bush Sr. library in Texas," Menegazzi said. "My career has been probably 50 percent very intense, high-detail intricate, unique projects and the other half flat-out, go-as-fast-as-you-can, like a human-paving-machine projects."
Menegazzi's terrazzo has also been installed in several local locations, including the State Farm Insurance office of Mike Bratton, after serving as one of Bratton's clients.
"I have a State Farm logo done on the terrazzo," Bratton said. "It's such a work of art, a lost art, but he is still a craftsman, and it's done all by hand. The detail for the art he did for the logo is perfect and a beautiful labor of love."
Menegazzi has also worked on the homes of celebrities, including Dean Martin, Groucho Marx and western movie star and Grass Valley resident Clint Walker.
'… the VIPs in my life'
After retiring he shifted his focus to working on the home he shares with his wife and his son's homes in Chico and Grass Valley. The Menegazzis have four other children as well.
"I told myself that for all those decades I did the fancy work for the VIPs, and now it's time to do the VIPs in my life," Menegazzi said.
Menegazzi not only works on terrazzo but is also a painter, utilizing the alla prima style of plein-aire painting, which focuses on capturing moments, requiring fast work.
"On a technical basis I'm somewhat of a Russian color purist and take the approach where I'm almost totally unconcerned with the details of drawing and am only placing color to try to capture the color of a given moment," Menegazzi said. "The way my friend put it was that if you paint longer than seven to 10 minutes, you're lying. You are painting what you think it should look like, not what it looks like, because the light and angles and colors of a landscape change so fast."
Menegazzi would like to be able to share his experiences through his art.
"My original motivation was not to make money, but now I would like to share with the world," he said. "Those are my moments in time where I was out there trying to enjoy life and capture a moment in time on my painting and if I've done it successfully enough and it can be appreciated by others, I would like to share it."
Menegazzi also makes frames that have a rugged yet detailed feel.
"The frames are earthier, more rustic, yet I paid good attention to detail and finish without trying to produce a 'made in China' glossy finish like most frames," Menegazzi said.
'… no interest in being a commercial artist.'
Menegazzi's vision has always been unconventional, from his frames to paintings and his resistance to commercializing art. In high school, he received a full scholarship to the prime art center school in Pasadena but had no desire to pursue commercial artistry.
"I have no interest in being a commercial artist, a school that trained primarily designers, almost all auto designers, magazine illustrators, Walt Disney artists," Menegazzi said. "I have no interest in being that kind of artist. My art is very serious for me, important to me, and I just cannot envision myself making it a commercial enterprise, and I felt strong about that as a young man."
His attitude has stayed the same, as he is careful about where he places his paintings.
"I have no interest in someone hanging around art galleries and making money showing off the paintings," Menegazzi said. "I'm not allergic to making money but not when you lose your spirit."
Still Menegazzi does not look down on those who choose to make a living out of their art. It just isn't his style.
"I mean no disrespect for artists that have found that personal niche to where they can be comfortable getting involved in the commercial world," Menegazzi said. "I certainly have respect for those people. It's just the way I've lived all my life."
Menegazzi's son, Reno, says his father's unique style of painting is part of his resistance to commercialized art.
"I think that's one of the reasons he feels like he doesn't fit with commercial is because he knows his work is sort of unrefined, and that's what he wants," Reno said. "As a kid, I thought he was so fascinating. He just came up with all these imaginative conceptual designs.
"I remember when I was a kid he was doing crayon art where he would melt crayons and do a painting out of wax."
Menegazzi's artwork can be viewed in January and February at the Vagabond Rose Gallery in Chico; and Menegazzi has also been invited to show paintings at the Smith Winery in downtown Grass Valley.
In advising other artists, Menegazzi said painting is about producing moments that make for a rewarding experience.
"Smile, be happy and keep painting and have faith in time, producing the proper time to produce the proper moment to get the proper result," Menegazzi said. "And if not, if you're truly an artist, you can never be unhappy painting. The painting is all the reward you need."
For information, contact Menegazzi via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (530) 274-8665.
To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email email@example.com or call (530) 477-4230.