by Debra Sloan
Santo Mignosa, a much-loved presence and a significant post-war founding artist in BC passed away November 2nd in Aldergrove, BC, after a very brief illness, leaving to mourn, Susan Gorris, his two daughters, Antonietta Savoie and Elana Mignosa, their families, and three grandchildren. Santo was a celebrated Modernist clay sculptor, a dedicated educator, a potter, an extraordinary muralist, a rigorous technician, and always a true gentleman.
Born in Priolo Gargallo, Sicily, to a family that manufactured roof tiles and bricks, Santo was the youngest of eleven children. His Canadian career started in the late 1950s when he first taught clay sculpture at the legendary UBC Ceramics Huts, then, in the 1960s at the Kootenay School of Art, and then, for two decades at the University of Calgary. Early in the 1990s Santo returned to Vancouver where he engaged with the Shadbolt, Centre for the Arts, and the West Coast Clay Sculpture Association, taught for the Vancouver Academy of Art and finally for Art in the Country in Aldergrove. Throughout the 1960s and 70s his work was frequently exhibited and awarded in major international exhibitions. In the 1970s Santo was one of the few Canadian representatives in the International Academy of Ceramics. In 1980 his work was included in the historic exhibition, ‘Retrospect 80’, held at Robson Square marking the 25th Anniversary of the PGBC. In 2011 his work was included in ‘The Modern Eye” in Victoria, and in 2020/21 in the seminal exhibition, “Modern in the Making,” at the Vancouver Art Gallery (curators Daina Augaitus Allan Collier, Stephanie Rebick). In 2020 Santo's work was installed in the window of the Craft Council of BC, in honour of his mentorship of BC ceramics.
Santo attended the Institute of Art in Florence graduating in 1954, where he was rigorously trained in ceramics and in anatomy, drawing and painting. He taught in Siracusa before he immigrated to Canada in 1957. By 1959 he took up pottery at the UBC Ceramic Huts after meeting Olea Davis (founder of the Potters Guild of BC-1955) who became a supportive friend and mentor. He taught at the Huts until 1961, along with Thomas Kakinuma, another important founding ceramic artist, and alongside an extraordinary array of international artist-teachers that Olea organized for the Huts and the Potters Guild of BC. He also served on the Board of the Potters Guild of BC before he left Vancouver for Nelson. Santo taught between 1961-69 at Kootenay School of Art, just after KSA instructor/artist, Zeljko Kujundzic founded the Ceramic Department, and before potter/ Walter Dexter took over the ceramic department.
While at the KSA, in 1965 Santo facilitated Hal Riegger's first Raku workshop in BC - a 2-week "exploring" field trip (primitive techniques, including firing, use of glaze materials found in nature) at University of Notre Dame, Nelson. Santo believed one of his roles as a teacher was to encourage students to take any opportunity to exhibit and so he encouraged his KSA students to participate in the Annual Exhibition of Ceramic Arts held in Faenza, Italy. In 1966 and 1967, the KSA class, which included two Inuit students, won silver medals as the Best Overall School, determined by a jury of seven European artists. The accomplishment added further credibility to skills being taught at KSA, and to Santo’s dedication as an educator.
Throughout his career Santo was frequently included and awarded in national and international exhibitions; winning the Gold Medal at the Second Exposition International des Chef d'Oeuvres de la Ceramique Modern, Ostend, Belgium in 1959, and in 1962 the Silver Medal, and in 1966 another Silver Medal at the 24th International Ceramic Exhibition in Faenza, Italy. In 1967 he received a Canada Arts Council Senior Art Award. Santo became a professor at the University of Calgary from 1969 -1989 teaching ceramics, sculpture, figure drawing and anatomy. In 1972 he took a Sabbatical and earned his MFA at Alfred University. In 1973 Santo was coordinator of a large international exhibition “Ceramic International 73”, for the International Academy of Ceramics, held at Alberta College of Art in Calgary. Later in 1973 his work was recognized when he received the Achievement Award from the Government of Alberta.
By the early 1990s Santo had returned to Vancouver and establishing his home and a large studio on Dollarton Hwy in North Vancouver. To integrate himself back into the clay community, he joined a clay sculpture class at the Shadbolt Centre in 1992 (Debra Sloan, instructor) and became involved the West Coast Clay Sculpture Association (WCCSA) an association founded by the Shadbolt sculpture students in 1993. For many years he worked with WCCSA holding a variety of workshops at the Shadbolt, or 1000 Parker, or in his own studio. Santo was knowledgeable in many ceramic technologies, and from 2000-2005 he taught at the Vancouver Academy of Art, and from 2006-2013 he held hand-building workshops, pit-firing, and wheel throwing classes for Art in the Country. In 2014 Santo travelled back to Italy and Sicily with his partner, artist Susan Gorris, and after that journey they started to write his biography, “Sea Salt, Lizards and Clay”, published in 2021 with the help of Jo Blackmore at Granville Island Publishing - recommended reading to discover more about Santo and his practice.
Santo contributed, to BC and Canadian ceramics, an unusual combination of formal continental training and the more informal Canadian and American influences - a dedicated educator constantly sharing his own rigorous training.