Cary man who sculpted state’s fallen firefighters memorial dead at 77

akenney@newsobserver.comMay 2, 2013 

— Carl Regutti, a sculptor whose work in bronze included firemen, a Kentucky Derby winner and a Civil War general, has died in Cary, where he lived for some 27 years. He was 77.

Regutti had an engineer’s mind and an artist’s eye. He received three patents as a scientist and businessman, then turned to art in his 40s.

He perhaps was best known for the N.C. Fallen Firefighters memorial in downtown Raleigh’s Nash Square, or for the nine-foot-tall sculpture of the horse Aristides, winner of the first Kentucky Derby, at Churchill Downs.

Regutti died Tuesday of prostate cancer, leaving behind four children, 12 grandchildren and his wife, Grace. Friends were surprised by the suddenness of his death.

“Carl was a fixture, in many people’s minds, in a lot of different ways,” said Lyman Collins, Cary’s cultural arts manager, who remembered Regutti both as a careful artist and an advocate of public art.

As a sculptor, Regutti looked for practicality as much as aesthetics, Collins said, and personally maintained the luster and patina of his work long after its installation.

Regutti, who grew up in Pittsburgh, was probably “the only artist in the world who’s a bacteriologist and chemist with an MBA,” he told The News & Observer in 2006.

His background in science yielded unique techniques and mediums, including new ways to sculpt brick and color stainless steel. He also used his expertise in plastics to craft models of characters for The Walt Disney Co.

It was Regutti’s attention to detail that defined his work, from the crooked smile on his bust of former Cary Mayor Koka Booth to the expression on the larger-than-life statue of Confederate Gen. Joseph Johnston near the historic Bentonville battlefield.

“He was a very methodical sculptor,” Grace Regutti said. “When I thought things were really just absolutely finished, he would find another 20 hours to work on it.”

John Booker, who worked with Regutti on the Bentonville project, said the artist pored over books and museum exhibits, trying to understand the essence of his subject.

“He wants to know how a man thinks so he can get the expression just right,” Booker told The Cary News in 2011.

Regutti was a reliable patron and critic of the arts, never failing to offer curators and town staff his praise and his unvarnished opinion. The fussy, demanding artist, though, made no distinctions among people.

“We could have met a homeless person and talked for 20 minutes, or a Ph.D.,” Grace Regutti said.

Regutti was an advocate for public art, too, serving as the first chair of Cary’s Public Art Advisory Board and winning the town’s cultural arts award in 2007. And his bronze sculpture of a little girl holding a puppy, commissioned in 1990 by Ralph Ashworth, was reported to be the first of downtown Cary’s numerous public art pieces.

“Carl just absolutely appreciated the arts across the board,” said Kay Struffolino, a friend of the Reguttis.

Regutti said he inherited his talents from his father, a portrait artist, and his grandfather, an Italian painter of murals.

Yet for all his prolific output, Regutti’s house never looked like the home of a sculptor – none of his statues on the lawn, no bronze on the porch. His work is scattered across the South, from Kentucky to Georgia. He liked it that way; he wanted his art in public, where others could enjoy it forever.

Kenney: 919-460-2608 or twitter.com/KenneyOnCary

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