Design Profession: Artist
Building Types: Other
A first-generation Italian immigrant, Alfonso Iannelli studied at New York’s Art Students League in his teens, where he garnered several awards. . He later worked with one of his teachers, Mount Rushmore creator Gutzon Borglum, on the saints and angels for the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine. After setting up a studio in New York, Iannelli did design and graphics work for publications including Colliers, Harpers Weekly and Ladies Home Journal.
In 1910 he traveled west. After working in Cincinnati for a short time he arrived in Los Angeles and was soon working with his wife-to-be Margaret Spaulding, designing Modernist vaudeville posters and collaborating with architects to incorporate sculpture into the buildings they designed. During that period, John Lloyd Wright communicated with his father, renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright, about Iannelli. The artist soon found himself in Chicago collaborating with the senior Wright. Later, Iannelli went on to collaborate with other Prairie and Modern architects.
Iannelli’s collaboration with Wright culminated in a 1915 south-side beer garden, “Midway Gardens” where he designed the now well-known “Sprite” figures. Using those figures and others he demonstrated how design and craftsmanship, partnered with solid sculptural skill, could be employed to heighten a building’s character.
Iannelli opened his first Chicago studio in the Loop, as Midway Gardens was completed. Moving to Park Ridge around 1920, his career continued for more than forty years. Throughout, working in a variety of genres, he designed and taught Modern American fine and applied art.
He taught in the School of the Art Institute’s first design department and, in 1927, was appointed director of the Institute’s first department of Industrial Design. Iannelli’s collaboration with architect Barry Byrne created a number of Chicago and midwestern houses of worship, religious schools, and residences. At the same time, he designed Chicago area home, office, and theater interiors and exteriors. Also then and later, he designed and patented Modern office and home products, working for companies like Sunbeam, Oster, and Eversharp. During the early 1930s, Iannelli exhibited at, collaborated with, and designed and executed much work for the administration of Chicago’s 1933 Century of Progress World’s Fair, designing the Radio Entrance to the Electrical Group Pavilion, and for fair exhibitors, including Havoline Oil, Radio Flyer, Wahl – Eversharp, and Ritter.
His other well-known architectural sculpture was completed in collaboration with architects Purcell & Elmslie for America's only Prairie civic building; the National Historic Landmark Woodbury County Courthouse in Sioux City, Iowa; architect Ernest Grunsfeld Jr. on Chicago Landmark’s Adler Planetarium’s signs of the Zodiac; and Prudential Insurance Company’s “Rock of Gibraltar" on its Chicago building.
Iannelli’s industrial designs from the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s are best represented by his C-20 coffeemaker and T-6 toaster for Sunbeam. His last large-scale public sculptures were created for the front landscape of the Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Public Welfare Building, and the River Grove, Illinois, Saint Joseph cemetery.
Iannelli worked from his Park Ridge Studio until his death in 1965. Chicago architect Joseph Grigg’s short biography on Iannelli was published in the Prairie School Review, fourth quarter edition, that same year.