Michael Del Priore, artist
Michael Del Priore, artist

Michael Del Priore, 66, one of America’s great portrait artists, passed away on Tuesday, May 26, 2020. He was born in Columbia, South Carolina on January 16, 1954 to the late Letha Wooten and Angelo Joseph Del Priore, Sr.

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Born from humble circumstances, Michael established himself as an award-winning portrait artist who is in the front ranks of American portrait painting. He has painted more than 850 commissioned portraits in his 35-plus year career.

His works can be found in many state capitals, state supreme courts, universities, banks, hospitals, boardrooms and private collections. Distinguished subjects include President Ronald Reagan, Bill Gates, Senators Strom Thurmond, Richard Shelby, and Pat Roberts; Governors Carroll Campbell, Robert McNair, and Jim Edwards; Congressmen Henry Hyde and Bryan Dorn, and Congressmen Gerald Solomon and Bill Young can both be found in the U.S. Capitol. He has also painted House Speakers Robert Sheheen and David Wilkins. Thirty-eight of his works are listed in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery Catalog of American Portraits.

After graduating from Columbia High School, Michael began his career as an artist by studying under Gian Cassone in Columbia and Ray Goodbred in Charleston. After returning to Columbia in 1984, Michael entered a national competition to paint a portrait of U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond to be displayed at the South Carolina Statehouse. The piece was commissioned to honor Thurmond’s 50-year career to that time, 1938-1988. Over 200 artists responded, and the selection narrowed to two, Michael and a famed portrait artist named Robert Bruce Williams of Washington, DC. The senator chose Michael’s work because of its excellence and because he wanted to support his home state constituents. That was a major milestone in Michael’s life, and he no longer had to search for commissions.

Michael had a passion for teaching. Early in his career, Michael began conducting painting classes at the Columbia Museum of Art, and eventually taught students statewide and at major art venues, such as the Art Students League, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the San Francisco Art Institute and the Palette and Chisel in Chicago. Michael also was the past Chairman of the American Society of Portrait Artists.

In 2018, he was presented the Order of the Palmetto, South Carolina’s highest civilian award, by Governor Henry McMaster, for his lifetime of artistic achievements.

Michael also pursued a passion for drumming and enjoyed an insatiable appetite as a performer. He admired Buddy Rich as a drummer as strongly as he admired John Singer Sargent as a painter.

As a deeply religious man, Michael gave equal attention to his faith in Christ. He loved studying the life of Christ and approached religion with the same passion he pursued art and drumming. He immersed himself in service whether he was attending at the Catholic church, the Methodist church, or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He would also often say “to work is to pray.”

Whether Michael was pursuing art, drumming or religion, there is a popular inspirational thought that describes his passion and personality: “A master at the art of living makes no distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues with excellence what he is about and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. He himself knows he is always doing both.”

He was preceded in death by his mother, Letha, his father, Angelo, Sr., sister, Rosemary, and his brother, Angelo, Jr. Michael is survived by his loving and devoted wife, Susan Kissimon, siblings, Rocco (Mary), Johnny (Debbie), and Charlotte, and children, Eric, Andrea, Anthony (Tyson), Joseph (Karen), and Julia. Michael was the proud grandfather of 15 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren. A private memorial service will be held at Oak Hill UMC. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to Oak Hill UMC, c/o Tom Stitt, 340 Dunklin Bridge Road, Pelzer SC 29669.