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James J. Vullo

James J. Vullo

Born: Buffalo, New York

James was one of eleven children, and he began drawing around the age of eight years old. James loved the city, especially the waterfront and his artwork almost exclusively reflects the regional area in which he lived. Though his work may have been under appreciated during his lifetime, his cubist watercolors from the 1950’s are thought to be his best works and he is now gaining respect for his unique renderings of Buffalo environs. He exhibited widely during his lifetime nationally and internationally, including shows at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Museum of Modern Art, the Brooklyn Museum and the Butler Institute (now the Butler Institute of American Art), OH. He won numerous national, international and regional prizes and awards and worked in a variety of different mediums such as watercolor, oils, acrylic, gouache, casein, pen & ink, pencil, chalk, wax crayon and graphite. He never drove an automobile and was seen riding his bicycle everywhere. He continued to live on the West Side of the city at 306 Trenton Avenue and painted until his death in 1999.

In February of 1942, James enlisted and served in the Army in the 149th Infantry division as a combat infantryman in the South Pacific during World War II. After being severely wounded in combat in the Philippines, he recovered but had lost two of his fingers. After discharge from the war he studied at the Honolulu Academy of Art in Honolulu, HI. Circa 1946, James moved back to Buffalo and with the help of the G.I. bill, was able to enroll as a student at the Art Institute of Buffalo. He studied there for about four years and taught classes on the side during that time. Impressed by Vullo’s work, Robert Noel Blair (American, 1912-2003) director at the institute from 1946-49, asked him to stay on as an instructor of life-drawing. James taught there through the early-mid part of the 1950’s alongside such distinguished faculty as Charles E. Burchfield (American, 1893-1967), Edwin Dickinson (American, 1891-1978), Isaac Soyer (Russian-American, 1902-1981) and David Foster Pratt (American, 1918-2010). Circa the late 1960’s he was the instructor of art at the Williamsville Central High School and also at Amherst Central High School. Circa 1960-1980 he was the Professor of Fine Arts at Buffalo State College, Buffalo, NY.

Vullo’s family, friends and colleagues affectionately referred to him as “Jimmy”. He was shy but had a very entertaining sense of humor as he loved puns and was considered a wordsmith. Some of his well known phrases came from his “daffynitions” as they were called, usually around the holidays or historic occasions. One Christmas season, he called children on Santa's lap “Claus encounters of the best kind” and labeled Scrooge a “rebel without a Claus.” Spring magic became “crocus pocus” and a comic Valentine a “comedy of eros.” He even made a little money with his usage of words. The Buffalo Museum of Science ran a contest to name its van-style museum on wheels. There were 1,056 names submitted by 4,076 contestants. His entry, “Haul of Science” won the $25 prize. A nationwide contest to name an elephant being used to promote products of the Planters Peanuts Company was won with the name "Cinderellaphant."

During the 1970s and 80s he was also an avid kite builder and flyer, and was affectionately known as the “Kite Doctor”. He would often be found flying his hand made kites in Lasalle Park in Buffalo on Sunday afternoons and happily giving out advice and first-aid tips to other kite enthusiasts. Vullo said kite flying “…makes you aware of the big sky and you become an extension of it, just as in painting there is an extension from the image into another world, the imagination; that's what it's all about.”[1]


Mark Strong, James J. Vullo,, (Accessed 12/15/11)