Gino Latini is modest about the sweeping autumn scene he painted on the mirrors that stretch the length of the dining room at Marcella’s Italian Restaurant in Glenville.
He shrugs off compliments about the lake ringed with mountains, the birch trees bright with fall leaves and the red barns on the lake’s shore.
“You’d think I did the Sistine Chapel,” the 86-year-old chuckled as he surveyed his work. “I put simple barns in there and simple trees and simple mountains and simple bridges. It’s a pretty basic design.”
Latini has been entertaining diners at Marcella’s with his artistic talent for almost a year, changing his painting with the seasons, a plastic coffee container half-full of water holding his dirty brushes, an old plastic tray serving as his palette.
He paints during the slow times — an hour or two before lunch and then again before the dinner crowd shows up. An entire scene takes between 12 and 15 hours to create, he said.
Latini came to this job after a lifetime of working in the art field. In 1955, he started the art program at Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School. He recalled the first day of the very first class, when he walked in to find that nothing that had been ordered for the art room had arrived.
“We managed to find some chairs and cardboard boxes. I went down to the office and got a ream of copy paper and a couple dozen pencils and we started an art program at Burnt Hills and it just grew,” he recounted.
Thirty-two years and about 13,000 students later, he retired from the art department but wasn’t ready to quit working, so for 17 years, he framed the paintings of watercolor artist Ken Schmidt, a former student.
Once that job came to an end, he went to Marcella’s looking for work.
“I can’t sit. I’ve got to keep my mind busy,” he said.
In addition to beautifying the dining room with his artwork, Latini does odd jobs around the restaurant.
“We enjoy him. He’s fun and he probably works harder than some of my young kids,” said owner Patre Kuziak.
Latini’s artwork draws customers back to the restaurant, she added.
“People just love watching it transform and seeing what’s coming next. It’s exciting,” she said.
Latini, who lives in Ballston Lake, said he paints scenes local people can relate to, including landscapes reminiscent of Lake George and the Adirondacks.
He’s already planning his winter mural, which he’ll start sometime this month.
“I’ve probably got 200 ideas in my mind,” he said with a grin.
He admitted he has a tendency to overwork his paintings, going back again and again to touch things up, but he’s trying to learn when to quit.
“If I did really what I wanted to do, it would take me as long as probably Michelangelo and the ceiling and I’d be here for three years,” he said.
The son of Italian immigrants, Latini grew up with six siblings in a little railroad town in Pennsylvania, a place he described as having “a lot of trains and noise and soot.”
He presented memories of his past like they were paintings: the neighborhood women who cooked in outdoor ovens; his family’s dining table, which stretched from the kitchen to the living room like a freight train; his tough brother Azio, the Marine, who never talked much about his time in the war.
In 1963, Latini married his wife, Irene. They raised two children and spent 50 years together before she died in May.
Latini recalled his wife with fondness. He said he called her “Jinx,” because of a series of mishaps that occurred while they were dating.
“I said, 'Jeez, every time I come to pick you up, there’s something wrong, so you’ve got to be a jinx.’ So everybody knew her as Jinx because I just called her that,” he recounted, his eyes bright with the memory.
With winter on the way, Latini will pack away his bright orange paint — his favorite color — and pull out the whites, blues and grays for his next mural.
“Last year I had some pine trees and a couple of snowmen and stuff like that,” he said. “The people put the pressure on me now. I’ve got to make each year just a little bit better.”
Reach Gazette reporter Kelly de la Rocha at 395-3040 or firstname.lastname@example.org.