© 2015 Rob. All rights reserved.

Leo Nomellini


Acrylic on 24″ x 24″ wood

The Leo Nomellini story is the story of America, the story of an immigrant who worked hard and became a success in multiple fields. Leo Joseph Nomellini was born on June 19, 1924 in Lucca, Italy and immigrated to the United States as an infant. After serving the US as a Marine during World War II, he attended the University of Minnesota on a football scholarship. There he was a two-time All-American and also excelled as a heavyweight in the school’s wrestling program. He was the 49ers’ first-ever NFL draft choice in 1950, and Nomellini went on to play in every one of the team’s games for the next 14 seasons, totaling 174 regular-season and 266 pro games in his historic career. He played both defensive and offensive tackle, winning all-pro honors for both, and was selected to the All-NFL team six times.

Following in the example of Bronko Nagurski before him, he began wrestling professionally during the off-season. On March 22, 1955 in San Francisco Leo ‘The Lion’ Nomellini defeated Lou Thesz for the National Wrestling Alliance World Heavyweight Championship in a controversial match. In this era, title matches were won by getting two out of three falls and Nomellini and Thesz each had one fall. The third fall was due to a disqualification, seeing Nomellini get the win. The California Athletic Commission recognized this win, but afterwards the NWA’s board members decided a title could not change hands based on a disqualification, creating in effect two men with legitimate claims to the top prize in professional wrestling. On July 15, 1955 the two met in Toronto, Ontario to find who is the true champion, with Thesz coming out on top and ending Nomellini’s run as the disputed World Champion.

Leo the Lion held numerous tag team championships over the remainder of his in-ring career with notable runs with both Wilbur Snyder and Verne Gagne. He frequently competed mainly in northern California’s NWA territory and for the American Wrestling Association in Minnesota. After retiring from competition he promoted in the San Francisco area as well.

Leo Nomellini passed away on October 17, 2000. He was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1969, the College Football Hall of Fame in 1977 and the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2008. From an immigrant to fighting in WWII to a multi-time football Hall of Famer to wrestling world champion, the Leo Nomellini story is the story of the American dream.

About the piece: I wanted to try something a bit different on this one. I went fairly traditional with the figure, mostly applying the paint with a brush. I added some texture with a palette knife here and there, and also created almost an ‘aura’ of energy around him mainly with the knife. I also added some ‘border lines’ with turquoise both to contrast the color palette of the figure and to create movement in a manner inspired by the cubists and Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Nude Descending a Staircase’.

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