Byline: Amelia A. Hart, Nassau Neighbors staff writer
Sculptor Dante V. de Florio Sr. still remembers the silent westerns that inspired him to draw cowboys and horses when he was a little boy in the medieval town of Maddaloni, Italy.
"Tom Mix. William Hart. That's what I used to draw," de Florio said.
From those humble beginnings, de Florio went on to become a noted sculptor with works included in collections around the world, including Tokyo, Switzerland, Italy and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California.
Now, de Florio and his son, Dante de Florio Jr., known as Danny, an art conservator and a talented artist in his own right, are sharing their talents with Nassau County artists.
This spring the soft-spoken de Florios, who both have an old-world charm about them, will teach another edition of their popular sculpture class offered through the Nassau Institute for Community Education, or NICE.
NICE offers low-cost, non-credit courses for adults that encourage lifelong learning. The Fall 2002 schedule included courses on photography, women's history, literary perspectives on World War I and the de Florios' beginning sculpture class.
The two will teach advanced sculpture when NICE's spring semester begins in February. Tom Silverio, a NICE founder, said the sculpture class has been full each time it's been offered.
"It's a very wonderful gift to the community to have people like the de Florios teaching," Silverio said. "It's just a wonderful mix of people who have lifetime experiences, or an avocation or a passion who are willing to share it with other people."
Both de Florio men have a wealth of experience to share.
As a young man, de Florio Sr., now 81, studied art in his hometown, in Caserta, Italy, and in Naples at the Academy of Fine Art.
He served in the Italian army during World War II. He was in Yugoslavia when Italy surrendered, and spent two years in a German prison camp until the war was over.
After the war, he decided his future would be in America.
"America was always the place to go and flourish," said de Florio, who still speaks with an Italian accent after 55 years in the United States. "Everybody who has some talent has a chance to live well."
His mother had brothers and sisters in Newark, N.J., so de Florio decided to immigrate in 1947. He became a graphic designer for pharmaceutical companies. He became an American citizen, got married, and in 1949, de Florio Jr. was born.
De Florio Sr. also pursued his art studies at the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Art and The New York Academy of Art in New York City, where he attended a special 15-week drawing course observing a dissection of his favorite subject, the horse.
De Florio's grounding in the basics -- drawing and anatomy -- were crucial to his art, and he stresses their importance with his students to this day.
"You have to really know the anatomy of anything you sculpt," he said.
De Florio Sr. shifted his artistic focus over the years from drawing and painting to bronze sculpture, and his works have been displayed at galleries, shows and museums in Washington, D. …