(Peoria) Journal Star
PEORIA — In the art world, Monte de Gallo wants to be the next big thing.
His massive, metal animal sculptures have been popping up in Peoria. As the mammoth menagerie keeps expanding, curious passersby keep asking the same question: What’s going on?
The short answer: it’s a simple but successful publicity effort. In three weeks, with an advertising budget of nothing, the huge handiworks have prompted 2,000 unique hits to the artist’s website, sculpturesbymonte.com. There, you can peruse a wide selection of critters — including Randy the Rowdy Rhino, Ellie the Exotic Elephant and Bill the Bodacious Buffalo — that carry price tags ranging from $12,250 to $52,000.
Yet, the most intriguing creation might be Monte de Gallo himself. He actually is a walking, talking alias boasting a colorful wardrobe and mysterious accent.
“What you’re looking at a person I created,” he says with a friendly chuckle. “I’m the persona behind Sculptures by Monte.”
And the person behind Monte de Gallo is Nic di Caro, 38, who spent his earliest years in Sicily, graduated from Pekin Community High School, then detoured to Africa, where he brainstormed his big beasties.
That journey started in 1974, when his Morton-born mother took a trip to Rome. There, she missed her intended bus and caught the next one, on which she met a Sicilian gent. After years of trading letters across the globe, they wed — and eventually along came son Nic.
An artist of multiple genres — he even designs his own clothes — di Caro found his greatest inspiration while traveling in Africa about seven years ago. In Kenya, he marveled at metal animal sculptures, though they seemed to lack enough sparkle.
“They didn’t have the finish or finesse to be spectacular,” he says.
So, he teamed with Kenya artists and welders to experiment, each time crafting a framework skeleton, creating a skin from small sheets of scrap metal (often discarded steel drums), then spraying for color and durability. In considering commercial aspects, he realized each work would take 500 hours if done by himself. So, he developed a network of collaborators — 16 in Kenya, six in America — and start a business: Sculptures by Monte. He has been working out of a warehouse in Pekin, but soon will move to a bigger site in East Peoria.
The artworks are about three-quarter scale. For instance, Giselle the Gentle Giraffe stands 14 feet, a bit less than a giraffe in nature but impressive nonetheless — especially to the Indiana businessman who just bought it for almost $40,000.
Di Caro feels the artworks provide a way of observing animals without restraining them in captivity.
“These are inanimate objects,” he says. “But they capture the life and soul of the animals.”
Right now, di Caro’s glimmering animals stand at friend’s homes. He is considering showing off more of his works in Peoria, then maybe other sites in central Illinois and beyond. Though the creatures are relatively lightweight, perhaps just a couple of hundred pounds each, each requires about six workers to be moved.
“They’re bulky,” di Caro says.
He’ll need plenty of help to transport a half-dozen of his beasts for the Big Picture Street Festival in the Warehouse District Oct. 11 and 12. But he looks forward to displaying a small herd to the public at one site.
“I’m having fun,” he says.