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Louis Frisino, award-winning wildlife artist and former commercial illustrator, dies

Louis Frisino worked as a newspaper commercial artist and then became a self-employed illustrator.
Louis Frisino worked as a newspaper commercial artist and then became a self-employed illustrator.

Louis Frisino, whose drawings and paintings of wildlife were featured on stamps and won competitions, died of complications of Alzheimer’s disease March 21 at the Glen Burnie Health and Rehabilitation Center. The Severn resident was 86.

Born Louis Francis Xavier in Baltimore and raised on Fairmount Avenue in Highlandtown, he was the son of Louis Frisino Sr., steelworker, and his wife, Margaret Fiedler, a homemaker.

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He and a sister, Patsy, were born unable to hear. His mother sent them to St. Francis Xavier School for the Deaf on Woodington Road and later enrolled them at the Maryland School for the Deaf in Frederick, where he graduated in 1953.

In a YouTube video, he told, through signing, that he first began drawing at the Roman Catholic School in Irvington and kept up while studying in Frederick.

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“When it was time for him to get a job, he applied at the old News-Post and Sunday American,” said his sister, Rosemary Brown. “There was a reluctance to hire him. My mother told the supervisor, ‘Don’t pay him. Just try him out.’ Before the week was over, he was on the payroll.”

His boss, the art director at the newspaper, recognized his ability and encouraged Mr. Frisino to take additional courses.

Louis Frisino of Severn displays in June 2004 the dead ducks he uses as models for feather details in his paintings.
Louis Frisino of Severn displays in June 2004 the dead ducks he uses as models for feather details in his paintings. (Susan Whaley)

He spent six years at the Maryland Institute College of Art and upon graduating was given its George Peabody Award, a distinction awarded to the school’s top graduates.

Mr. Frisino worked in the newspaper’s commercial art department and drew detailed advertisements for local department stores and other retailers. He used sign language to communicate with printers in the afternoon paper’s composing room.

“The paper also had Linotype operators who were deaf and he also had no problem communicating with them,” his sister Rosemary said.

Colleagues said he became a well-liked staffer who often showed his drawings of dogs and wild birds at lunchtime. He left the paper, then called The News American, in 1978 and became a self-employed artist. He worked primarily as a printmaker and occasionally with watercolors, acrylics and oils.

He built his own art studio atop a two-car garage in Severn.

“With sunlight streaming down on their backs, the two ducks appear so lifelike they could waddle off the easel,” said a 1993 Sun story. “But wildlife artist Louis F.X. Frisino isn’t done with them. He puts his glasses on, dunks a thin brush in a glass jug, swishes the wet bristles in white watercolor on the palette. He wipes excess paint off on a rag, and then feathers the tiniest line on one of the ducks. He scrutinizes the waterfowl and delicately lays on another white slit. It’s as if he is painting these ducks feather by feather.”

Gail Fields, then the state Department of Natural Resources illustrator who ran the duck stamp contest, said in the 1993 story: “It’s like a photograph — when he paints he can draw the feathers with such fine quality that you want to reach out and touch it.”

Louis Frisino of Severn puts the finishing touches on a painting in June 2004.
Louis Frisino of Severn puts the finishing touches on a painting in June 2004. (Susan Whaley)

In a YouTube video, Mr. Frisino is shown with his pet Labrador retrievers, pugs and pointers. He carved and did taxidermy and kept a collection of stuffed birds he used as models for his detailed likenesses of wildlife.

“When I see a bird in the air,” Mr. Frisino signed, “I’m reminded of my inability to fly. The creatures’ beauty inspires me.”

Mr. Frisino competed among hundreds of entries to have his work on a U.S. postal stamp. He placed third, sixth and 10th, but was not selected for the honor. He indicated he would keep trying.

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He was a regular exhibitor at the annual Waterfowl Festival in Easton.

“He was a talented artist who created beautiful outdoor scenes and painted wildlife,” said his daughter, Elaine Davila of Severn. “He was a funny man with a great personality. He was a wonderful husband and father.”

He entered Maryland wildlife stamp competitions and took first-place honors in 1976, 1986 and 1993 in the Maryland Migratory Waterfowl Stamp Design contests. He also won awards in the trout stamp contest.

He won a blue ribbon the 1988 Ward Foundation North American Bird Painting competition in Salisbury. He took the top honor for an oil painting of a snowy owl.

His art also appeared on Christmas cards published by the National Wildlife Federation.

“After winning too many Maryland wildlife stamp competitions, the state officials restricted his participation to give fair breaks for other artists,” said an article in Deaf Digest. "Undaunted, he branched out to other states and still won these competitions."

Mr. Frisino was awarded first place in the 1987 North Carolina Sportsmen License Stamp contest and first place in the World Championship Wildfowl Painting competition.

Some 45 of his images of fish were included in the 1970 edition of Fishing in Maryland, published by Burton & Dillon.

In addition to his sister Rosemary and daughter Elaine, survivors include his wife of 60 years, Elaine Mary Zaworski, a homemaker; a son, Louis Frisino Jr. of Millersville, another daughter, Helen Belt of Severna Park; another sister, Meg McLeary of Lutherville; five grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. His sister, Patsy Frisino, died in 1992.

Plans are pending for a life celebration.

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