By Gaetano Cipolla – Professor Emeritus St. John’s University
It is well established that Sicilians in addition to the qualities attributed to them by Cicero “an intelligent race, but suspicious and endowed with a wonderful sense of humor,” are also a talented and creative people crafting unique objects that require skill, dedication and a desire to leave their mark on the world.
Examples include Filippo Bentivegna, a self-taught artist who sculpted hundreds of busts from boulders on his property in Sciacca that became “The Enchanted Castle,” an open-air museum. However, closer to home is Antoinette Romano. Known as Ninetta to her friends. Her passion is dolls. She designs and creates them, styles their hair, fashions their clothing and shoes. She paints their faces and then poses them. Attention to detail is everything, even to the level of coloring their fingernails. Ninetta has developed a unique look for the dolls, each of which is unmistakable as her work. She calls the line of dolls Mio—the name her granddaughter called her. While the dolls are made in the same basic figure in terms of size and height, each is one of a kind, entirely manufactured by hand with meticulous attention to every detail. Each piece has a unique name which then determines the kind of treatment she will receive in terms of her clothes and make up.
Ninetta Romano developed her hobby following her retirement from operating a Wedding Gown salon in Brooklyn, NY. In her boutique, Ninetta personally fitted the gowns and made all of the necessary alterations to ensure that every detail was handled in a most caring manner. The brides who were lucky enough to purchase a wedding gown from her still remember her with affection. With time on her hands and a true Sicilian who cannot stand still for too long, she began to make dolls for her grandchildren. As a clothing designer and sewing artist, it was not long before she created a gallery of dolls that are simply amazing. Beginning with the same basic figure, each doll grows into a one of a kind personality, in which every piece of her attire is coordinated with the image the Ninetta had in mind. Each doll requires days of painstaking work, involving many skills. The dolls’ hair must be shaped appropriately, her clothes must reflect who she represents and everything about her must ring true, as you can see in the photographs of her dolls. The dolls are a labor of love and creativity.