Monday, June 12, 2023

Lettering: Toni Bonagura, Lettering Artist and Painter

Anthony “Toni” Bonagura was born on December 10, 1897, in Naples, Italy, according to his naturalization documents and World War II draft card. (The birth date, January 10, 1898, was on his World War I draft card.) Aboard the steamship Marsaila, Bonagura sailed from Genoa on March 10, 1898 and arrived in the port of New York on March 20. 

In the 1900 United States Census, Bonagura was the second of three children born to Louis, a tailor, and Carmella. They lived in Manhattan at 339 Eleventh Street. The 1905 New York state census said the family of six resided at 202–204 First Avenue in Manhattan. 

The Bonaguras have not yet been found in the 1910 census. According to the 1915 state census, the Bonagura family numbered nine members. They were Brooklyn residents at 8651 Bay 12th Street. 

On September 12, 1918, Bonagura signed his World War I draft card. His Brooklyn address was 8651 16th Avenue. He was a commercial artist at Welanetz Company, 2 East 23rd Street in Manhattan. 

The Independent and Times (New Paltz, New York), August 9, 1956, said Bonagura “studied Art at Cooper Union in New York, the Art Students League of New York and the Chicago Art Institute.” The Anthony Bonagura website said 
… he moved to Chicago where he attended night school at the Chicago Art Institute and by day worked in an artists’ studio as a paste-up boy. Eight years later he had done well enough to land a job as an Art Director for Lord & Thomas Agency, one of Chicago’s leading advertising firms. He later became Art Director for J.M. Bundscho Agency of Chicago, the largest typographic plant in the country. 
Bonagura has not been found in the 1920 census. On May 15, 1922, Bonagura and Velma Crystal Gibbs married in Richmond, Indiana. 

In Chicago, “Antony Bonagura” began the naturalization process. He filed a Declaration of Intention  on June 5, 1922. His address was 2176 Ontario Street. 

In the mid-1920s, Bonagura moved to New York. He and his wife were listed in the 1926 White Plains, New York city directory at 26 East Parkway. His occupation was artist. 

On April 8, 1929, Bonagura became a naturalized citizen. His address was Bay 16th Street in Brooklyn. 

The 1930 census counted Bonagura, his wife, son and daughter in Greenburgh, New York at 11 Chedwick Road (in the 1940 census it was Chedworth Road). Bonagura was a self-employed commercial artist. 

Four days after the census enumeration, the New York Sun, April 16, 1930, noted Bonagura’s Manhattan office.

Modern Packaging, March 1933, said Bonagura’s design for Columbia Liquid Wax, number 87, was one of the hundred outstanding packages of 1932. 

Printers’ Ink, April 27, 1933 reported the following. 
Appoint J. M. Perkins
James M. Perkins, formerly of Byron Musser, Inc., has established his business at 118 East 40th Street, New York as a representative of advertising artists. He will represent John Atherton, Toni Bonagura, Robert Fawcett, Arthur Palmer, Raymond Prohaska and Howard Scott.
Bonagura signed his World War II draft card on February 16, 1942. His office was at 143 East 45th in Manhattan. Bonagura was described as five feet seven inches, 195 pounds, with black hair and brown eyes. 

Lettering and Calligraphy in Current Advertising and Publishing exhibition, at the A-D Gallery in New York City., presented the work of 25 letterers and calligraphers including Bonagura (below). The catalog was reprinted in Print, Fall 1945

Bonagura’s chart was published in Print, 1949. 

The 1950 census said Bonagura and his wife resided in Gardiner, New York on Phillies Bridge Road. He was a self-employed commercial artist. 

The Independent and Times, January 18, 1951, published Bonagura’s advertorial.

Art Direction, October 1953, printed a Photo-Lettering advertisement announcing the transfer of photographic alphabets by Bartuska and Tony Bonagura. Art Direction,  November 1953, reported the transfer of photographic alphabets. 
Photo-Lettering adds alphabets
Ed Rondthaler has been abroad securing European alphabets for Photo-Lettering Inc. and one-man calligraphic and lettering shows for the Alphabet Gallery. 

Toni Bonagura and Frank Bartuska have transferred their entire “Custom Lettering” line of nearly 100 photographic alphabets to the Company’s library. This line includes many versions of both contemporary and classic designs. A brochure displaying these designs is available from Photo-Lettering, Inc., 216 East 45th Street, New York City.
A trove of Bonagura’s lettering is hereLettering Art in Modern Use, Student Edition (1965) included three samples by Bonagura: Never let him know; Custom Built by Buick; and My Brother Bob Taft.

The Independent and Times said 
Mr. Bonagura was forced to retire from business in 1953, due to a cardiac condition, and has since focused his entire time on painting. He likes to call his retirement from the business scene his “raison d’ etre.” 
His paintings can be viewed here and here

Bonagura passed away on May 30, 1963, in Gardiner, New York. An obituary appeared in the Daily Freeman (Kingston, New York), May 31, 1963
Anthony Bonagura, 65, died suddenly Thursday at his home, Phillies Bridge Road, Town of Gardiner. Born in Naples, Italy, Dec. 10, 1897, he was the son of the late Louis and Carmella Leioy Bonagura. His wife is the former Crystal Gibbs. Prior to his retirement 12 years ago he was a prominent advertising design artist in New York City. Since his retirement he has been a creative artist and was well known through his exhibits locally. Surviving in addition to his wife are a son John L. Bonagura of Town of Gardiner; a daughter, Mrs. Lorraine Zinsmeister of Long Island; a brother, Fred Bonagura of Flushing; six sisters, Bridgeta Bonagura of Seaford, Helen Crane of Brooklyn, Enis Biederbeck of Bayside, Valia Gustafson of Flushing and Dora Walter of Glen Cove and Gilda Lubash of Poughkeepsie; seven grandchildren. Funeral services will be held Monday 2 p. m. at the Pine Funeral Home Inc., New Paltz. Burial will be in the Modena Cemetery. Friends may call at the funeral home Saturday and Sunday afternoons and evenings. The Rev. George Van Emburg, pastor of Gardiner Reformed Church, will officiate.
Bonagura was laid to rest at Modena Rural Cemetery. Photographs of Bonagura are here

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