Eric Dever

Villa Francesco

Villa Francesco

In 1950, The Flowers of St. Francis (Francesco Guillare di Dio) was released, a film directed by Roberto Rossellini and co-written by Frederico Fellini. Rossellini found meaning in stories neglected by the post-war materialistic world. The film is based on 2 books: a 14th century novel, I Fioretti di San Francesco (The Little Flowers of St. Francis) and The Life of Brother Juniper, both relating the life and work of St. Francis and the early Franciscans.

For Pier Paolo Pasolini, who responded in a 1966 press conference to a question about his own film, The Gospel According to Saint Mathew, “I may be an unbeliever, but I am an unbeliever who has a nostalgia for a belief.” Pasolini considered Rossellini’s film “among the most beautiful in Italian cinema.” François Truffaut called it “the most beautiful film in the world.”

In 2010, I traded a New York apartment for what would become an art studio and garden in Water Mill, New York on Eastern Long Island. Tucked away on a graveled path stood a concrete sculpture of Saint Francis, his raised right arm missing a hand. Down the road was the fabled mansion turned convent, Villa Maria. Author Joe Pintauro remarked that the statue was a handsome St. Francis and suggested naming the property, Villa Francesco, recalling Wallace Steven’s poem, The Anecdote of the Jar:

I placed a jar in Tennessee

And round it was upon a hill.

It made the slovenly wilderness

Surround that hill.

The Wilderness rose up to it,

And sprawled around, no longer wild.

The jar was round upon the ground

And tall of port in the air.

It took dominion everywhere.

The jar was gray and bare.

It did not give of bird or bush.

Like nothing else in Tennessee.

In 2019, a slab of thick marble, part of the original altar from Our Lady of Mount Carmel-Annunciation in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, salvaged by Joe and remaining in his garden for over 5 decades, was lowered into the center of the studio garden. St Francis was placed on top as dragonflies flew overhead.

Here, flowers make their appearance in the spring, beginning with hellebores, snowdrops, daffodils, forsythia, magnolias, followed by dogwoods, an indoor cala lily, irises, lily of the valley, roses. lilacs, prickly pear cactus, a yucca, day lilies, sunflowers, cosmos, tiger lilies, morning glory, cleome, milkweed and a bird of paradise; which hold symbolic and personal meaning. The magnolia tree is associated with perseverance, love of nature, joy and beauty; the dogwood is a symbol of rebirth, resurrection and purity.

I planted this garden, and like every plant, “each painting becomes a friend and revelation,”1

The joyful shock of walking into Berry Campbell’s Chelsea art gallery was to see an exhibition saturated with color….”This change must have come from here,” touching his chest. “Is this about Joe?” His expression shifted from the commercial smile of a solitary artist forced to entertain his followers, to one of man grieving a dear friend. He nodded. Eric worked intimately with the brilliant playwright Joe Pintauro. The two shared a love of the painterly and writerly disciplines. After valiantly fighting cancer, Pintauro died last May in Eastern Long Island, where both men had studios.

—Gail Sheehy, 2019, author and journalist.

1 Pintauro, Joseph. The River of Heaven, Je t’attendrai. Sag Harbor, New York, 2018. p 356 (unpublished novel).