By Art Petrosemolo
Santo Pezzutti is a well-known, respected, local artist listed in the prestigious Who’s Who in American Art. He has had three major shows in the past two years while also working as a free-lance art director. And somehow Pezzutti finds time for his other passion, sailing. He has been the Sanderling fleet champion at the Monmouth Boat Club for more than a decade and always a fierce competitor on the water.
The eye-opener, however, is he is doing this at 90 when most people are happily retired or happy to get out of bed every day. Pezzutti shows no sign of slowing down as he approaches his milestone birthday June 2. He is one busy nonagenarian.
Pezzutti was born in Italy in a family of five children; he has a sister, 83, and a brother, 65. Pezzutti came to the United States just before turning 6, settling with his family in Passaic. His dad, a stonemason, moved the family after World War I, looking for work and opportunities for his children.
When asked about his artistic ability and when he began to enjoy art, Pezzutti laughs. “Because I was still learning the English language in kindergarten,” he says, “I spent an extra year there before moving on to first grade. One of the things the teachers did to keep me busy was provide me an easel and paint. It both kept me busy and got me started.”
Today, Pezzutti paints several times each week and has three or four projects under way at any one time. He paints in all mediums on all surfaces. Although he is best knows for his semi-impressionistic portraits, Pezzutti says that recently he is painting what he wants to paint and has been focusing on boats and nautical scenes.
“Great painters never retire,” says his daughter Carol, herself a respected portrait artist. “What would they retire to?” she says with a smile.
Critics comment that Pezzutti brings to his paintings the joy of the outdoors with a clarity and freshness that depicts his enthusiasm for the world around him. They say his bold contrasts of unique color combinations express intense emotion.
Pezzutti, many times, uses thinned down paint, which can be partly transparent, like watercolor, to capture his subjects and the drama of the moment. He describes his work as a “stream of consciousness ” method, never striving for photographic realism.
Pezzutti’s formal training came during and after high school at Newark School of Fine and Industrial Art. He spent time in the U.S. Army during World War II and then returned to art school in 1945, before taking his first job as an illustrator at Charles Dallas Reach, a Newark advertising agency. His career progressed to New York City where he worked for years as an art director for Paris & Pert and handled the packaging line for Jane Parker products.
Pezzutti married (the late) Gertrude Doherty in 1952, a fellow artist he met in art school. They were married for 59 years and had four children, three who are in art-related fields including portrait artist Carol; Diane, an art director in Atlanta; and Paul, a New York architect.
While he was working in New York City, Pezzutti had a summer home in Monmouth Beach. The family decided they wanted to live permanently in Monmouth County so he built a home in Rumson and continued to work as a free-lance art director for such accounts as Smart Balance foods, a company he actually named for its developer Bob Harris. Harris, an octogenarian, is still a close friend and entrepreneur. He continues to work closely with Pezzutti in developing concepts and marketing approaches for new products.
Pezzutti’s busy schedule still allows time for sailing. Living now on the Navesink’s north shore, he has a perfect view of the Monmouth Boat Club where he has been a member for 52 years and is one of the club’s oldest, but none-the-less most active, racing sailors.
For many years, Pezzutti sailed in the small, one-design Albacore Class with his son Paul as crew. At age 61, Pezzutti realized the small, tender Albacore was for younger skippers. “It was just too tippy,” he says. Pezzutti switched to the Sanderling class – a larger catboat rigged boat – where he has been more than competitive, almost impossible to beat, for the past decade.
Son Paul continues to crew for his dad and says Pezzutti, as would be expected, sails like an artist “always looking for the most wind on the water to achieve the closest tacking angle to get to the turning marks and finish line.”
Pezzutti has outlasted the entire Sanderling Fleet as the number of boats sailing in the class has decreased for the past several years providing him with only about a dozen bridge and bay races to show his skills each season. Pezzutti’s Sanderling (No. 25) is 45 years old and – with a talented skipper – is still the boat to beat in the fleet. In its heyday, the bay race attracted nearly 20 Sanderling and cruising boats from Monmouth Boat Club and Shrewsbury Sailing and Yacht Club and Pezzutti took top honors or top three finishes nearly every time it was sailed.
Pezzutti won Sanderling class honors from 2000-2009 and the trophy detailing those accomplishments has been retired; his record never to be equaled.
As he looks forward to the years ahead, he has no plans to slow down. He will continue to work as an art director, paint, exhibit and sail. Pezzutti’s family and friends will honor his 90th birthday at a special party at the Monmouth Boat Club June 2. All fully expect Pezzutti to be art directing, sailing, and painting when they gather to celebrate his 100th birthday in 2022.