Hagley Museum & Library
Manuscripts & Archives Department
P.O. Box 3630
Wilmington, DE 19807-0630
1.2 linear ft.
Domenico Mortellito was a designer, muralist and sculptor noted for working in plastics and other synthetic materials. Mortellito was born on September 1, 1906, in Newark, N.J., and graduated from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn in 1926. He then joined the studio of Mack, Jenny & Tyler in New York where he was employed until 1932. This early work consisted of traditional architectural murals and ceiling decorations in both fresco and oils, inlcuding work for the Morgan Library annex. From 1932 to 1942 he operated his own studio in New York. During 1934, he did some WPA work, but in the main was able to build a new career as a decorator of public buildings and commercial displays and expositions. The nature of this work moved Mortellito in the direction of non-traditional materials, including carved and lacquered linoleum and rubber-based paints. This phase of Mortellito’s work culminated in the decoration of pavilions at the New York World’s Fair, including the Food, Sports and Fashion Buildings, and the buildings of Heinz, Ford, and DuPont, the latter including the first wall decorations to be made of Lucite, Plastacele and other plastics. In the same year he had several works in carved linoleum exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art. Mortellito served in the Army Air Force during World War II, supervising graphic presentations to Gen. "Hap" Arnold and his staff and designing publications. On the basis of his world’s fair work, Mortellito became a design consultant to DuPont’s Advertising Department after the war, and a full-time employee in 1950. In addition to murals, decorations, magazine covers, and trade show exhibits, he also created product symbols such as "Mr. Neoprene" and "Mr. Teflon", and the Du Pont 150th anniversary memorial now on the grounds of the Hagley Museum. From 1957 to 1979 he chaired the DuPont Color Council, a unit of the Advertising Department that promoted the use of DuPont dyes. Perhaps his largest project of this period was the DuPont Pavilion at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. After his retirement from DuPont, Mortellito continued to produce murals and sculptures, chiefly in synthetic materials, for both public and private installation. He died on July 31, 1994. Domenico Mortellito’s papers are a small fragment that primarily document his work for DuPont. The majority of the materials deal with the design and execution of the DuPont Pavilion at the second New York World’s Fair, including correspondence, studies, drawings and photos of the take-apart model of the original design. The files reveal Mortellito’s dissatisfaction with the final result and the fate of some of his design concepts at the hands of his superiors in the Advertising Department. There are also a number of reports and recommendations for DuPont on a variety of design issues, the organization of the Color Council; a clipping file on the 150th anniversary monument; paste-ups for presentation books on Corian, a company corporate identification manual, and the use of DuPont colors in kraft paper and tissue paper; sketches for an heraldic shield for DuPont Menswear; and designs for oval-shaped containers. There is also an extensive file on what Mortellito termed "growing shelters synthetically", a project to have housing or building units produced on-site from extruded or molded plastics such as urethane foams. Such processes are used to produce structures that are cellular rather than rectilinear, resembling honeycombs, shells, fruits, and other organic forms, and the designs somewhat resemble the work of the architect Bruce Goff and his followers. The papers also include talks by Mortellito, miscellaneous sketches and artwork and a patent for a system of exhibit panels. Mortellito’s model of the World’s Fair Pavilion, along with artwork in Lucite and Teflon are stored in the Hagley Museum’s artifact collections. Additional materials may be found in the Pictorial Collections Dept.