MERIDEN — Justin Piccirillo was a five-year-old doodler when his father Duane shared the Record-Journal’s latest editorial cartoons, drawn by the late Frank (Lamp) Lamphier Jr.
Piccirillo would soon create his own cartoons, starting in pen and ink and moving to color and digital technology. At this time, Lamphier and about five other cartoonists exhibited their work for the daily newspaper. Lamphier’s first cartoon appeared in May 1947 and it continued for decades until his death in 2010.
To call Lamphier an inspiration is an understatement, Piccirillo said.
About 70 years of local editorial cartoons by Lamphier and Piccirillo will be on display this Saturday with a reception from noon to 2 p.m. at Gallery 53 on Colony Street. The art exhibit, which runs until July 23, features framed and matted works that both appeared in the newspaper and those that the newspaper rejected because they were “a little off”, said Piccirillo. All exhibited works are for sale.
“It’s an amazing show,” said Sandy Goodyear, executive director of Gallery 53. “We’re mixing two parts of the story; May 1947, through to last week. I’ve wanted this exhibit for a long time.
Lamphier cataloged, dated and preserved his works in the basement of the family home. His wife Anne and son Brian Lamphier worked with Galerie 53 to assemble the collection.
Looking through Lamphier’s work, Goodyear noticed some trends in social commentary that continue today. High gas prices were regularly denounced, as were inflation, municipal budgets and taxes. But there were also many cartoons that honored community members who had contributed.
“You could be in the drawing, or a friend or a family member,” Goodyear said. “It became extremely interesting as I progressed year after year.”
Piccirillo began drawing editorial cartoons for the Record-Journal in 2002 and remains a regular contributor today. He continued Lamphier’s critique of high interest rates and local politics, while establishing a neutral political balance.
Technological changes have also changed some of the fun at work. Piccirillo misses the days when he would bring his work to editorial page editors for inclusion or rejection and the “great conversations” that would follow. Today, everything is done by email.
Piccirillo teaches art at Thomas Edison Middle School and has written books about the history and artists of Hubbard Park and Meriden. Some of the biggest challenges of the pandemic were mask mandates and isolation, he said. But what makes the city fun to characterize is its lively and diverse population, its successes and its frustrations.
A print features the old Meriden-Wallingford Hospital in the form of a white elephant with the caption that the city should turn the plot into a zoo. There are also provocative prints that warrant a more mature audience.
For the most part, Piccirillo maintained Lamphier’s tradition of capturing the city in its glory and stumbling day after day. He plans to continue as long as his mentor.
“What separates us is that there aren’t many political cartoonists left,” Piccirillo said.
For more information about the exhibition, contact Galerie 53 at [email protected] or 203-235-5347.
Journalist Mary Ellen Godin can be reached at [email protected]