By Karen Sharpe
Patrick Marando '54 has a knack for noodles.
He loves the assortment of shapes and sizes that pasta can take. He especially raves about lasagna and alphabet noodles. However, it's not pasta's palatability that feeds his passions, but rather its superb versatility as a sculptural and painting medium.
"You won't believe what pasta can do," he says.
Marando, who was born in Italy, came to the United States with his mother when he was four years old. He had always been a creative person, but it wasn't until after his 1990 retirement from a career in special education and administration that his own artistry blossomed. The impetus was a request from his mother, then in declining health, to make something for her.
"When I was in kindergarten I had made a pasta jewelry box for her out of my grandfather's cigar box," Marando recalls. "When I retired, she asked me to do more pasta work. It was kind of weird, but I made her a pasta noel candle out of lasagna. I used shells for berries, bow ties for leaves and then painted it with oil and enamel paint. She loved it, so I did more."
And more: Marando's collection now numbers more than 75 pieces and he has created a mini-museum to showcase it over his garage in Southington, Conn. His work includes painted pasta-relief creations such as Mickey and Minnie Mouse and Santa Claus, as well as more serious portrayals of World War II scenes, a 5-foot tall memorial to 9-11 and landscapes. It can take weeks for Marando to finish a piece, which may involve such fine detail work as pre-painting tiny orzo or bow tie pasta shapes in enamel or morphing wet lasagna around curved molds.
Marando begins by drawing a sketch on a foam-core backing and then shaping and gluing pasta in relief; he then paints and frames the artwork. Many are quite heavy, he says, and difficult to move. However, some creations he takes to schools, libraries, colleges and convalescent homes as the basis for talks and workshops. As a result, the self-taught artist has become something of a local culinary celebrity.
Marando and his artwork have been featured on the Food Network's "Unwrapped" program; in the National Pasta Journal; and on Nutmeg TV, Connecticut's public television cable station. But it's not fame he seeks when he creates — it's joy.
"I was at a school in Plainville, Conn., and there was a little girl who couldn't hear and was blind and couldn't talk," he says. "But she had wonderful tactile sense — I put my artwork in front of her, and she touched it, and she smiled. My heart just leapt for joy. There was communication. I consider myself an ambassador of cheer and warmth, and that's all I really want to do."
Marando, who seeks no compensation for his work, hopes that someday his collection can be housed in a real mini-museum for people to enjoy for many years to come.
"It really is quite unique," he says.