John Greco

 

GRECO, JOHN
(1893–1986)
conceived this nation’s Lilliputian version of the Middle East,
HolyLand U.S.A.
Standing atop Pine Hill in Waterbury, Connecticut,
HolyLand
is an instructional andeducational visual aid about the Bible and the life of Jesus Christ. Greco is enshrined in his charmingly monumental, epic recreation of Bethlehem and Jerusalem.Constructed in 1956 as a tourist site,
HolyLand
in its heyday, in the late 1960s, had more than 40,000 visitors annually; since the artist’s death in 1986, however, hisfolk art environment has been threatened by vandalism, budget cuts, and religious doctrine.Greco, the son of an immigrant Italian cobbler, was born in Waterbury. He entered the seminary as a young man and studied law at Yale University, later founding alaw practice in Waterbury. In 1956 he bought seventeen acres of dry, eroded land on Pine Hill for $7,000. Though lacking architectural or engineering expertise, hedevised an ingenious design of roads, foundations, and terraced hills. Greco carted thousands of tons of concrete up the hills and planted bushes and trees. Aided byvolunteers who called themselves the Bucket Brigade, the artist transformed the hill in four years. Then he started to build a miniature version of Jerusalem along withthe multitude of shrines lining the many paths of
HolyLand.
Didacticism was the motivating force for the artist; John Greco’s aim was to spread the word of God. He willingly employed an unconventional method,simultaneously using
HolyLand
as a visual aid and theme park, to realize his vision. Hundreds of dioramas, grottoes, habitats, shrines, temples, and tombs litter thelabyrinth of paths winding around the hill. An exacting artist, Greco traveled to Israel and photographed sites pertinent to Christ’s life. Maps and photographs werestudied so that
HolyLand U.S.A.
might be an accurate reproduction of the Holy Land in the Middle East. At the base of
HolyLand
is a postcard panorama of Jerusalem, with hundreds of buildings constructed in miniature scale. The style of windows, flat roofs, and soft hues of little Jerusalem accurately evoke
HolyLand’s
namesake.Time, harsh weather, careless vandalism, and strict Church doctrine have all contributed to the decline of
HolyLand U.S.A.
While folk art enthusiasts applauded
HolyLand
for its alluring aesthetic qualities and its testimony to the human spirit, the Catholic community viewed it as an outmoded expression of religious piety. Thedensely ornamented environment did not reflect the Church’s plans to streamline its symbols. In response, in 1988 a group of concerned citizens formed the“Committee to Save HolyLand.”Efforts are still underway to preserve this folk art environment, now viewed by fewer than 1,000 visitors each year.
See also
Environments, Folk
.
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Ludwig, Allan I. “HolyLand U.S.A.: A Consideration of Naïve and Visionary Art.”
The Clarion
(summer 1979): 28–39.Prince, Daniel C. “Folk Art Environments: Environments in Crisis.”
The Clarion,
vol. 13, no. 1 (winter 1988): 44–51