December 30, 2013


By Brian Danko                           

Flemke, SR Saw Potential In Artist, Just As He Saw It In Racers


Mention the name “Zarrella” in auto racing, especially around the families central Connecticut Southington home and it gets immediate attention. Jeff Zarrella, longtime modified crew member for Mario Fiore’s potent #44 driven to hundreds of wins by modified legend, Reggie Ruggiero.

Jeff is now the tire specialist for Danica Patrick’s Sprint Cup team but also mention “Zarrella” in Southington and many people think of Jeff’s younger brother, Dale , who not only is a nationally known artist and sculptor but also internationally known in the arts world.

Dale Zarrella has been described as a master visionary, master artist, and a master craftsman. Those are the words of Dewitt Jones, one of America’s top professional photographers for National Geographic and as a film director who had two films nominated for Academy Awards.

Dale Zarrella is a painter, sculptor, speaker and more. He is an Artist.

Zarrella, who grew up in Southington is one of the top sculptors in the world and while he left behind his Southington roots some 29 years ago, to move to Hawaii in order to perfect his craft and his vision, he still comes back home to see his family and many friends.

The late NASCAR Modified Legend Ed Flemke, Sr. had an eye for more than good racing talent. (John Grady Photo)

Zarrella, who has his works of art on all seven continents, is known locally for carving the crucifix at the St. Dominic’s Church in his hometown at the tender age of 18.
“That was the first time I ever sculpted a human form.” Dale said thinking back to his first major work, a project that would later convince the budding artist, he could do this. “It was after doing that I clearly realized the gift that I had been given.”
The 8 foot crucifix is still talked about by people who have seen the work, but Dale’s work with the church was just the beginning of what would later take him to Rome, Italy.

Dale was given his first carving tools by Jim Wooding, who worked for the Bristol Brass company. “One day I was raking leaves in my yard, he walked by with his wife and we talked and he said he liked to carve wood and birds so I went to his house and saw it and fell in love with it. Later, he gave me three tools and a piece of wood and that began it, he got to hand it down to me.”

“Shortly after that he had a stroke, but my mother would take me to see him and I would show him what I was working on.”

Dale and his older brother, Jeff, were big race fans growing up and locally nobody was bigger than Steady Eddie Flemke, Sr. Dale wanted to do something for his idol, so he carved his car in wood and gave it to him for his birthday.

Flemke, who had a knack for seeing drivers with talent, told Dale to keep at it. “He loved it! You need to stick with it kid. It will take you somewhere, someday.” Dale said beaming. It seems that Flemke just knew talent of any kind when he saw it.

Last year, Dale completed two commissioned bronze statues of Saint Damien of Molokai for the Vatican, and delivered them to Pope Benedict in Rome. Dale’s original 7 foot wooden statue was commissioned for the Saint Damien Memorial Museum in Waikiki.

The statue depicts Father Damien with Leper Child as he is watching over the loneliness and suffering of the many lepers that were abandoned to the island.

Now, Zarrella is preparing for another piece for the Vatican. It will be a bronze of Mother Marianne Cope, who also worked with the lepers in Hawaii.

Zarrella doesn’t just take on work; he immerses himself in the subject he is creating. “I don’t want to just read about the person, I want to know their heart and soul.” Then he begins to create his piece of art.

“It will probably take me six months to do the bronze piece of Mother Marianne and then another year to do the wooden piece for the St. Damien and St. Marianne museum.”

“I know now that I have the credibility of any collector in the world because of my works for the Vatican, but I had to be given a chance. There are many more talented artists than me, but I was given the chance.”

If they are more talented than Dale, it must be the Almighty himself doing the work.

In the future, Zarrella will always be associated with the Vatican because of his works there. Dale’s other incredible works of art include the Mermaids of Maui series, sculpted in wood weighing up to two and a half tons depicting the mermaids with turtles and coral teaming with sea life.

Dale was also commissioned to create five large sculptures for the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Clubhouse at King Kamehameha Golf Club in Waikapu, Maui. The design was originally conceived as a summer retreat in Connecticut for Marilyn Monroe and her play write-husband Arthur Miller. Dale tells the story of Marilyn and Arthur stopping by his family’s ice cream shop, Maple View Dairy on West St. when looking at land in Southington to build their home. Due to their divorce it was never built.

Many of Dale’s works can now be seen at The Makena Beach and Golf Resort as the whole resort is his gallery.
When asked what his God given gift is Dale said, “I’ve been given the vision to create timeless works of art that inspire people.”

Dale’s list of clients includes many of the who’s who in the world. August Busch IV, the former CEO of Anheuser Busch, the late Fred Turner, CEO of McDonalds, Ed Benninger, president of Valero Oil Company, along with actors, Carl Weathers and Danny DeVito, and NASCAR driver and Daytona 500 winner, Geoff Bodine, just to name a few.

While Dale has had Benninger, August Busch, and other influential people over to his house for dinner and conversation, Dale is still as down to earth as that day he moved to Hawaii in January of 1985 to pursue his gift of art. I asked how he has stayed so humble despite his world wide success, Zarrella responded, “Well, I come from a very humble family and it’s also part of my personality. I am a very spiritual person and I think that helps keep things in perspective.”

For the 1980 graduate of Southington High School, when asked him why he has never gone back there to talk about art. “I have never gotten a call back.” He replied, “These kids need to be inspired. I do a presentation at DePaolo Junior High and Monroe High each year. The most important message I convey is, follow your dreams.”

In the book on Dale Zarrella and his work called Portrait of an Artist, Zarrella may be best known for his awe inspiring mermaids. “I saw the mermaid in the wood and carved it until I set her free.” Dale said in a passage.

Dale Zarrella has been in Maui now more than half his life, but the artist never forgot his family and his friends, just as Southington has never forgotten their artist.

Some of the works of Dale Zarrella
Photos © Dale Zarrella