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Daughter uses road construction career in her art

June 22, 2019

NEW CASTLE, Pa. (AP) — Some family traits are said to skip a generation.

Other times, it’s purely “like father, like daughter.”

That’s the case with Ron Sullivan, who gave his daughter, Rabecca Signoriello, a literal life on the road that she continues today.

Like her father, who did road construction for 30 years before trading it for his current job in a steel mill, 38-year-old Rabecca spends her days working on highways around western Pennsylvania as a member of a Lindy Paving crew executing PennDOT contracts.

“You might see me on the turnpike, or (interstates) 79 or 80, or even some of the back roads,” the New Castle resident said. “But we’ve been doing a lot of big roads lately. We were down on (Route) 28 last year.”

Today, though, you’ll see her at Arts + Education at the Hoyt. For while Signoriello is right at home with a hard hat and jackhammer, she’s equally adept with a paint brush and canvas. And from 2 to 4 p.m., the Hoyt will host an opening reception for her series Grit, paintings that combine both sides of her life by depicting the labors of herself and her co-workers.

Her father is understandably proud of the work Rabecca does both in concrete and oils. But he makes no bones about the latter.

“That,” he said, “she didn’t get from me.”

In her hard hat and neon yellow safety vest, Signoriello might not be immediately recognizable if you were to drive past her in a construction zone.

However, she’s certainly making a name for herself in art circles.

With a bachelor of fine arts degree from Edinboro University and a master’s earned at The New York Academy of Art, she has works in private collections in New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, Germany and Monte Carlo, Monaco. She has done residencies and continuing education at the Rockport Center of Art in Texas; in Orvieto, Italy, where she was in a painting workshop with noted contemporary artists Vincent Desiderio and Bernardo Siciliano; and at the Spinnerel’s Leipzig International Art Programme in Germany, where she did a two-month residency.

Her work has been seen in solo and juried exhibitions around western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio, and examples of her murals can be seen locally inside the Ladies of the Dukes on Croton Avenue and the Jacqueline House near New Wilmington, as well as on the exterior of the Rosewood Plaza on Wilmington Avenue.

Still, before she ever picked up a brush, she did her creating using implements of manual labor.

“When she was little,” Ron Sullivan said, “I’d come home and she’d be out in the driveway with her power tools trying to build stuff.

“We farmed, too, and she helped me farm. She’s always my right-hand man at home, when she was a kid, even. She enjoyed it. She liked to build stuff.”

Signoriello did some painting in high school, but at the time of her graduation, both her mother and father worked for IA Construction in Franklin. She recalls coming home one day and hearing her mother say, “You’re going to work tomorrow.”

That was 20 years ago, and she’s still out repairing and rebuilding Pennsylvania’s highways.

“I taught her everything (including how to use a jackhammer), and she took off,” said Ron, who at the time assumed the dual roles of Signoriello’s boss and father.

It wasn’t always a friction-free dynamic.

“I was quitting every other day sometimes,” Signoriello laughed.” Then you get up and go back to work the next day.”

BUILDING A PORTFOLIO

As much as she enjoys her highway work, Signoriello is equally passionate about her art.

“I always liked it, but I’m like, ‘What am I going to do?’ I didn’t really even know,” she recalled. “So my now-husband said, ‘Go to school,’ and I’m like, ‘OK. For what?’ He said, ‘Art.’ So I just went. It turned into a big ball of learning and wanting more and more and more.

“I would love to make a living as an artist but it’s a really hard field to get into. I pretty much went to school just to learn more.”

Now, the road work subsidizes her art work.

“It keeps her from being a starving artist,” her father observed.

Well, that and several other endeavors as well.

Signoriello not only drew up the blueprints for the house in which her dad now lives, but she also helped to build it. She did home remodeling jobs for her sister and her sister’s boyfriend, which eventually led her to buying and flipping houses on her own.

Oh, and she also wrote a children’s book and is getting ready to do another.

“In the summers, I don’t have much time at all. It’s pretty much just go, go, go,” she said. “In the winters is when I get to slow down a little. In the winter, I’m in studio almost every single day, from morning to night, usually.

“That’s how I find time for my paintings. In the summer, I don’t paint quite as much. Last year, I did, but that’s because I was on night shift and I couldn’t sleep, so I painted, and just was tired all the time.”

Asked in a 2014 interview on artsillustrated.com where she saw herself in in five years, Signoriello responded that she hoped “to be more active in promoting my work and to be represented by a gallery. Then the ultimate goal is to be able to paint full time.”

Now five years later, she concedes that “I’m not quite there yet, but I’ve gained a lot of ground. It just takes a lot of time, especially when you’re working full time jobs.

“It’s really the logistics of getting paintings out there and getting shows and organizing two different lives. That’s pretty much what it is, it’s like living two lives. That gets a little bit hard.”

Still, she pushes on. For one thing, she intends to expand on the Grit collection that is now being shown not only at the Hoyt, but also inside the Pittsburgh International Airport. And she’s turning to a piece of art history for inspiration.

During her time in Orvieto, Italy, she encountered a painting by Italian Renaissance artist Luca Signorello in the Duomo di Orvieto, a 14th century Roman Catholic cathedral.

“It’s like this hell scene,” she said. “I’m going to use it as a representation of sometimes how you feel, and do a big painting, but it will be construction workers.”

She concedes that although her “day job” can lead to burnout, she likely would miss it were she able to walk away from it and make a living solely as an artist. Nonetheless, that remains the goal.

“The endgame is I would like to be a painter full time and have people buy my work and enjoy it,” she said. “That’s would I would like to do. But I still want to keep true to myself and do paintings that I want to do.”

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Online:

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Information from: New Castle News, http://www.ncnewsonline.com

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