BALTIMORE - Sunbeams sneak through the drawn shades in the open gallery space at Stevenson University. Shadows score a checkered pattern on the freshly swept wooden floor.
The walls are being adorned with the faces of men and women who have come and gone—the same men and women who helped preserve the American dream in Baltimore’s Little Italy.
Baltimore photographer Harry Connolly spent 16 years and took 20,000 photos chronicling those changes in Baltimore’s Little Italy neighborhood. On Thursday, Connolly will present his work at a gallery at Stevenson University in a celebration of art and Italian culture. (Details below)
“Looking back now, it kind of feels like I caught its last hurrah,” Connolly said. “A lot of the people here are no longer with us. Father Mike [Salerno], he was sent away to some place in Brooklyn. Everything is changed. Photography becomes a part of the past almost immediately but after 15, 16 years looking back on one small neighborhood it seems like it’s changed a lot, more than other places.”
The neighborhood, which once stretched to Broadway Street, has shrank. More renters than homeowners have moved in. Neighborhood eateries have upgraded to four- and five-star trendy restaurants. There’s no more gambling on the corners.
“In the old days, you never saw the houses for sale,” Connolly said. Homes would transfer from parents to their children. “I don’t know what’s going to happen to it.”
Connolly embedded himself in the Little Italy culture and learned from the sages that helped preserve the Italian way of life. On Tuesday, as finishing touches were put on the gallery at Stevenson, he turned to a photograph of John Pente and his little dog.
“In a lot of ways, he was like the mayor of Little Italy. Everybody turned to him for things,” Connolly said. “He was coming home from his 100th birthday party. And that’s Gina [his dog]. He always had a dog named Gina Lollobrigida. He had three of them. But that were all named Gina Lollobrigida.”
For anyone who has ever attended an outdoor movie in Little Italy, the projector actually points out of the late Pente's window.
On the opposite wall, James “Guido” Lancellotta is posing for a photograph outside of St. Leo’s Church—the heart of Little Italy—the same place where Connolly’s journey almost ended before it started.
He wrote a letter introducing himself to Father Michael Salerno, then pastor of St. Leo’s. Father Salerno didn’t even bother using a new piece of paper to issue a swift response.
“He just scribbled on my letter that he was too busy,” Connolly said.
It took some time but ultimately Salerno conceded and even wrote Connolly a letter of introduction—a “paisano pass” that helped him earn the trust of his subjects in the neighborhood. Like most Italian boys, er, men the pastor consulted his mother.
“He apologized and goes ‘my mother says I’m all smoke and no fire.’” Connolly said.
Thirty-five more photographs round out the gallery, which runs from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Stevenson University Greenspring Campus. Connolly said he was expecting a rush of familiar faces who have seen many of the photographs, but not all in one place.
“Rosa Vasta,” Connolly said, pointing to a Italian woman picking peaches in her backyard, “
she always wanted the photos after I took them.”
Connolly’s work may be a first of its kind in what for decades was a guarded immigrant neighborhood. The photographer and author had no ties to the community before he reached out to its faith leaders.
“I came from an Irish Catholic family with seven kids. So I kind of had that connection,” Connolly joked.
Connolly is hoping to take his Little Italy project called “Un Cuore Grande” (A Might Heart) and produce his third book, which he plans to be a culmination of photographs, essays and stories that he has gathered since 1997.
This year has deemed the “ Year of Italian Culture in the United States .” Some many know that the number “13,” as in, 2013, is a lucky number in the Italian culture.
Stevenson University has embraced the art and Italian culture, catering its fall galleries, film screenings and performances to Italian artists and ideas.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to see an excellent exhibition here at Stevenson,” Matt Laumann, Stevenson University’s cultural programs manager, said. “ It’s really accessible and we’re trying to give people a better understanding of the art. .. It’s an opportunity to really get up close.”
“We’ll also be having some bocce players right outside on the grass, so they’ll be able to see us,” he continued.
The exhibition is scheduled for Thursday Oct. 3 at 1525 Greenspring Valley Road. The reception will feature Connolly’s gallery, Italian food and wine tasting and bocce.
Ask Connolly about the people in the photos and he’ll tell you a story. Ask him about the muscular man, wearing a tight gray shirt, holding a bocce ball and you he’ll the history of Dominic Pertucci. You may have