NICOLA BERNARDO was born in Italy in 1892 o Luigi and Maria Bernardo. His father, a railroad worker, sent him to the academy of Arts in Naples at the age of 9. When circumstance forced him to leave school at 13, but he was able to save a little money and attend the Royal Academy in Rome. At sixteen he emigrated to the United States, joining his uncle Angelo, who lived at 819 Coates Alley in Camden. Once in America, his Uncle arranged for him to attend the Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. Nicola Bernardo became an American citizen in 1918. By the time of the 1920 Census he had married, and the family, which included a step-daughter, his parents. in-laws, and mother-in-law, was living in a rented house at 444 Henry Street. Besides his art studies, Nicola Bernardo by this time also owned a shoe shine stand.
Nicola Bernardo did well at the Academy, and prospered throughout the 1920s. Besides working as an assistant professor at the Academy, he opened a cleaning and dyeing business, and a shoe repair shop at 20 Haddon Avenue, learning the trade himself from the man he hired to work there. He sold many pieces during this period, which included busts of prominent citizens, such as Wilfred W. Fry. By the time the census was taken again, in April of 1930, Nicola Bernardo and family were living at 5801 Westfield Avenue in Pennsauken NJ.
Perhaps the most memorable sculpture that Nicola Bernardo executed during this period was a bronze statue of an American Indian chief that was commissioned by the Improved Order of Red Men as a memorial to Camden city and county members who died while serving with America's armed forces during World War I. Until 1981 this statue stood in a park that was located between Haddon Avenue and South Seventh Street below Benson Street, which is now occupied by the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey Camden Campus. The statue was moved to a site on Route 9 in Tuckerton NJ, where it stands today.
Nicola Bernardo took the money that he made on those and other pieces, about $100,000.00, and invested in real estate. Unfortunately, his fortune was erased when the Depression struck the United States in the fall of 1929. He was left with his shoe repair shop, and forced to pursue the trade that he had unintentionally acquired.
The federally-funded Works Progress Administration provided work for many people in the Arts during the 1930s. Nicola Bernardo was hired to teach classes in sculpture. He founded the Camden Academy of the Fine Arts, which he was still operating as late as 1947, at 731 Federal Street. He appears to have passed away by October of 1956. He was survived by his wife, who was still living at 20 Haddon Avenue. Sadly, the Camden Academy of Fine Arts did not survive Nicola Bernardo's passing.
Camden Courier-Post * August 29, 1935
Joseph Altman - Nicola Bernardo - Benjamin
Auslander - Leonard
Altschuler - John Ciccarelli
Harry Brand - Morris Stim - Samuel Mignogna - Lewis Liberman - Harry LaBove
Anthony DePersia - Isadore H. Coten
Haddon Avenue - South 3rd Street - Federal Street - Kaighn Avenue - Chestnut Street
Camden Courier-Post * February 10, 1938
Camden Courier-Post - June 1, 1939
Profession and Shoemaker by Fate, Camden Mans Now Heads WPA Academy of
Don't tell Nicola Bernardo a shoemaker should stick to his last. Nick, as he is known, is a sculptor by profession and a shoemaker by fate, and his patrons have the privilege accorded to few other customers of the gentlemen in olden days known as cobblers.
Nick has a shoe repairing shop at 20 Haddon avenue and his patrons can visit his studio there, whenever they drop in for a pair of rubber heels or to get the old "kicks" half-soled.
Bernardo is a cobbler, but he likewise is an artist and a personage. His years are 48, but he has been immersed in sculpture, so to speak, since he was a youth of nine.
At present he is in charge of the Academy of Fine Arts, operating under the benevolence of WPA, where the maestro makes $20 a week, which is something like penury to a man who was kicked out of $100,000 when the depression settled its sinister mantle on this land.
Three Bright Pupils
Despite this rebuff of fate, Nick is yet an optimist, who is happy over the fact that he has 500 pupils ready to dabble in sculpture, three of whom are positive geniuses to the master. One is a Russian miss of 16, another a French girl, 50 whose only identity to Nick is "Hazel of Palmyra" and Tony DiFelipo, 19, of Camden.
"They are positive geniuses" opined Nick, in chatting about his discoveries, "and some day they should make their mark as great sculptors."
Nick's own career reads like something out of Arabian Nights. Back in Casertto, where he was born—Casertto is a little city near Naples—Nick's father had a good railroad job. Nick early evinced a natural Latin strain as an artist, so the parents sent him at the age nine, to the Academy of the Fine Arts in Naples.
"I was there until I was about 13," said Bernardo, "when my father lost his job and I had to go back home to help the family fortunes. I did some sculpture then, made money in a little studio I had near the railroad station, and when I had enough I went to the Royal Academy in Rome.
Came to Camden
"When I was about 16 it looked as if the family fortunes would never mend enough for me to become a sculptor, so I wrote to my uncle, Petrone, who lived in Camden and asked him to send me money to come to America."
"That was 30 years ago when I was 18. My uncle sent me the steamship tickets, and gave me $5 to see me across the ocean. I landed in America with no knowledge of English and my uncle sent me to the Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia."
"I began to do pretty well, and when I had some money I opened this shop—I've lived here ever since I've been in the United States—and put an Italian in as the workman. I learned my trade from him."
"That's a fact, he taught me to be a shoemaker, all the time I was making good money in sculpture. I did the 'Indian' that stands on the lot where the old City Hail once stood and was given $18,000 for executing that commission. I did busts for the best-known men in Camden and altogether I must have made $100,000 from sculpture."
"I put my money in real estate, bought this home and shop, and then bang! The depression came along, I lost all the property in which I had invested my money, and believe it or not I'm paying rent for this very house today, the home I had bought when things were prosperous."
Grandsons Have Talent
Heredity also has come into its own in the person of Nick's two grandsons, Jerome, 10, and William, 12, both of whom are pupils at St. Mary's Parochial School. They are children of Nick's daughter, Theresa, and their childish talent runs to painting.
Nick says he has a flair for the brush and that he teaches his grandsons how to work in oils and that for juvenile artists, they are both good. Inside his shop are pieces of sculpture that lend an artistic atmosphere that the whirring machines and the spinning brushes cannot eradicate.
Behind the repair shop is the studio where things that have transpired are housed until Nick can find other lodgings for his masterpieces. There is a magnificent full length statuette of the late Dr. S. Weir Mitchell, of Philadelphia, one of the world famous neurologists and an author as well. Likewise are busts of some of Camden's best known citizens, all of which art work has grown a trifle ivoried by age.
Nick treasures a photograph from Constance Bennett, the screen actress, autographed, a souvenir of a pupil that Nick taught, and who was a protege of the Hollywood thespian.
Two of Bernard's treasures are the originals of the design for the button worn by soldiers of the World War, who fought, under the Stars and Stripes, and the original also of the Navy button, awarded the seadogs who also fought for their country.
Despite all the buffeting of fate and fortune, Nick still is the artist at heart, and for $20 a week he is teaching a class, doing cultural work that: he finds a balm to his feelings, wounded by the crass fortune that kicked him so unmercifully, when his fellows suffered its stings and arrows, too, starting in 1929.
Camden Courier-Post - June 1, 1939
Nick Bernardo, who teaches the class in sculpture under the auspices of WPA, ekes a living as shoemaker in his shop, 20 Haddon avenue, in the rear of which Nick's treasures of clay and marble.
The young: woman who is engrossed in her artistic endeavor is Miss Madeline Palma, 525 Cooper Street, who is one of the master's prize students. She has been studying under Bernardo for five months.
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