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[BN] Chronicles: Tony Sisti captures springtime in Buffalo at Albright Art Gallery

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people Tony Sisti artwork Albright Knox Courier Calendar.jpg

A Tony Sisti painting showing the then-Albright Art Gallery, as it appeared on a 1959 Courier-Express calendar. 

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The painting capturing spring at the David statue and then-Albright Art Gallery in Delaware Park was widely distributed as a calendar by the Buffalo Courier-Express in 1959.

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Tony Sisti in 1974. 

The artist, Tony Sisti, was a Buffalo character and Allentown institution. He opened his gallery on Franklin Street near Allen in 1938 and was one of the original organizers and the first chairman of the Allentown Art Festival.

A 1926 story in The Buffalo Courier tells the story of Sisti, who moved to Buffalo with his family when he was 10. As a student at School No. 2 on Lower Terrace, he was caught doodling in class. But the sketched copy of a Julius Caesar painting was so incredible, instead of being yelled at – he was sent to art class to develop the skill.   

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Sisti, an already-established painter, fought in his final boxing match to raise money for a New York City art show in 1939.

While painting was always his first passion, he was also an occasional professional boxer, often using the purses won in fights to fund his painting. A 1918 Golden Gloves state champ, he retired with a professional record of 85-15.

“One cannot serve two masters,” Sisti told the Courier in 1926, “and I love art.”

When Sisti died in 1983 at the age of 82, it took more than a decade to settle his estate – with most of his paintings and even his Allentown home going on the auction block as his family couldn’t agree to a settlement.

"It's been just as colorful as Tony Sisti was," said Anne Gunderman, a former Sisti student who ran a 1993 auction of some of his work. "He had that gallery on Franklin Street for almost half a century, and it was like a bottomless pit. He had nearly 10,000 art pieces and no inventory list."

Beyond his own creations, Sisti was a patron of art. His gift of 26 paintings and drawings by Charles Burchfield helped establish what eventually became the Burchfield Penney Art Center. Beyond the paintings, Sisti was also responsible for tracking down and photographing many of the landmarks shown in Burchfield’s art.

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A 1919 boxing card for the Parkside Wheeling Club on Genesee Street shows Tony Sisti in the lineup for an early professional fight. 

Steve Cichon writes about Buffalo's pop culture history for BN Chronicles, has written six books, and teaches English at Bishop Timon - St. Jude High School. 

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