Frank Gasparro was born in South Philadelphia, the first of seven children. The year was 1909. Even before he graduated Vare Junior High School his talent for sculpture was recognized. He began studying sculpture seriously at the Fleisher Art Memorial and apprenticed to Giuseppe Donato (a student of Rodin) even while he was attending South Philadelphia High School. By 1955 he would become an instructor at the Fleisher Art Memorial, teaching even late in life, appearing to classes using a walker. Frank also attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts from 1928 to 1931, from which he won grants to study sculpture in Europe.
Graduating during the (not so) Great Depression, he was fulfilling the role of a starving artist. His family had been made up of musicians and they had hoped he’d become one as well. I guess musicians eat more frequently. But in 1942 he was able to leave a job welding on defense projects at the Westinghouse plant in Lester, Delaware County to join the U.S. Mint – where he had been making repeated visits to pester them for employment. He would work there 39 years without ever taking a vacation, to miss only one day of work in 1952 because of the flu. In 1965, Frank was appointed Chief Engraver of the United States by President Lyndon B. Johnson. He retired in 1981.
The Sketch Club archives reveal little about the man in his comings and goings to the Club house. What our archives do reveal are his many accomplishments and honors.
In 1981 Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh, designated one of the weeks in April to be Frank Gasparro Week.
In 1990 he received the first Samuel S. Fleisher Founder’s Award, which he had also designed. Speaking of design, here are a few of his others: the reverse of the Lincoln penny, the reverse of the Kennedy half dollar, both the obverse and reverse of the Eisenhower dollar, both the obverse and reverse of the Susan B. Anthony dollar; he also did the inaugural medals for Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter; the Congressional medals for Marian Anderson, Douglas MacArthur, Thomas Dooley, and Sam Rayburn. He designed coins for Guatemala, Cuba, Panama, and the Philippines. He also designed a medal for Queen Elizabeth II’s Bicentennial visit in 1976 and a Memorial medal for Roberto Clemente. Still other medals are: The Benjamin Franklin medal, The City of Philadelphia medal, the 1980 US Olympic Team medal, the John Wayne commemorative medal, and then there was the Frank Gasparro medal, issued by Bowers and Merena Galleries, Inc., a one-ounce .999 fine silver medal bearing a self-portrait.
Frank died in September of last year. He was 92. He said, “I’m anonymous until I make a mistake.” But what news accounts our archives hold indicate he was very much loved by his colleagues and his students. Photographs reveal a man, slender and bald. Numerous quotes indicate that he had a sense of humor, did not take himself seriously, and enjoyed his long life and was happy in his vocation.