Born in Mura, Italy in 1887, it is said that folk artist Romano Gabriel once called his adopted home of Eureka, California "a bad place for flowers".
As a carpenter and gardener with strong connections to his homeland, culture, and political issues, Gabriel viewed the front lawn of his home on Pine Street in Eureka with a distinct and unique vision. He saw this traditionally designated space for pleasantries such as flowers as an environment not only serving as a greeting area for the eyes of passers-by of his home, but also as a space to display art objects exposing the inner workings of his imaginative and personal world.
Gabriel found that forgoing a typical social life and living a largely introverted lifestyle as beneficial to his craft, providing him with solitude and concentration for his art making. The resulting three decades of devotion to his creative vision is a fantastical collection of hundreds of wooden human and animal figures, now known as the Sculpture Garden of Romano Gabriel.
Gabriel's beginnings in the United States date back to 1913 at the age of 26, when the artist left his homeland and headed to America in search of a new life and opportunities. After serving in World War II, Gabriel settled in Eureka, California on Pine Street in a home which he had built himself. He worked as a carpenter and gardener, but kept mostly to himself.
At the age of 50, Gabriel felt compelled to create sculptural forms out of wooden vegetable crates to fill the void not only on his lawn, but also in himself, resulting from his increasing dissatisfaction in living what most would call an "ordinary" or "normal" life as prescribed by American social scripts and ideals.
Gabriel harnessed his knowledge of hand tools from furniture and house construction with his creative energy in filling his 30'x60' front lawn with his creation of a multitude of brightly painted sculptural figures and forms out of wooden crate materials, some purely decorative, others as commentary on social or political issues.
Many of the original pieces now housed in the Romano Gabriel Sculpture Garden were cut with a hand saw. Later, the artist used a small electric saw as he worked in the small shed in his yard, peeking out to secretly observe the people who stopped to see his work.
Romano Gabriel's work emerged from memories of his travels and his homeland, as well as from his favorite magazines.
As the years passed, Gabriel's garden grew until it almost completely obscured his house, and became a tourist attraction gaining national and international attention. Photographs of the sculptures have been exhibited at Harvard and M.I.T, as well as in the magazines Architecture Plus and Art News among others, and in the book All Their Own. Pieces have toured Europe and have been exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.