The U.S. Senate commissioned a bust of Nelson Rockefeller in 1983 as part of its ongoing Vice Presidential Bust Collection. Traditionally, the subject’s family is permitted to select the sculptor, and the Senate funds the work. For this bust the Rockefeller family requested that artist John Calabró be given the commission, and the family donated funds beyond the amount earmarked by the Senate to defray the additional costs of executing the sculpture. Although Architect of the Capitol George White agreed to proceed with the recommendation, he was disappointed with the work as it progressed. Regarding the plaster model by Calabró, he noted: “Even though it was a reasonable likeness, there was in my judgment a definite lack of personality in the piece.”  Before the sculptor could complete the work to his own or White’s satisfaction, however, his health failed. Vincent Palumbo, master stone carver for the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., was asked to finish the Rockefeller bust, which he carved in marble from Calabró’s plaster model. The piece was unveiled at the Capitol on June 1, 1987, with both Calabró and Palumbo in attendance.
John Calabró studied at Cooper Union in New York and at the Academy of Fine Arts in Milan, Italy, under Gaetano Cerere. During the course of Calabró’s long career, he exhibited plaques, busts, and statues throughout the United States. His notable works include busts of George Washington, Albert Einstein, Dwight Eisenhower, Samuel Clemens, and Abraham Lincoln.
1. George M. White, Under the Capitol Dome (Washington, D.C.: American Institute of Architects Press, 1997), 85.