A Bayonne native who now makes southern California his home got the thrill of his life recently when he played a hand in identifying what he says are long-lost artwork by Salvador Dali.
Ron Barbagallo, 56, is a consultant to animation studios in Hollywood. He has worked there for 18 years and was a friend of Roy Disney, Walt Disney’s nephew, doing projects for him for 16 years.
Barbagallo said, “I received an email from a stranger telling me about how he had found the ‘Ark of the Covenant,’” a 1967 Dali lithograph and animation art. The man went on to say he had come across original Dali artwork. But Barbagallo was skeptical.
“I get these all the time and I said, ‘There’s no way you have this.’”
Four months passed and then Barbagallo heard a thump at his door on a Saturday morning. A package had arrived with dozens of photocopies or photographs of work in the Dali style.
“I knew immediately they were authentic,” Barbagallo said. “I could just tell by looking at the high resolution scans that it was a significant discovery, a career milestone.”
His 28 years in the animation business, and knowledge of art and movies, came into play. He remembered Dali had worked on the Alfred Hitchcock classic “Spellbound” in 1945.
The 85 pieces, 72 hand-drawn sketches and 13 storyboards, are from a collaboration of Dali and Walt Disney in the 1940s, when the two had struck up a friendship. One of the pieces was signed by Dali.
Disney, who was in the early stages of creating his animated empire, promised Dali he would make a short animated film with him. The movie, about a man’s fascination with women, was called “Destino.”
But Dali produced so many images that the cost to make the film would have been prohibitive, and the project was abandoned.
How did the man who sent the images acquire the original works, estimated at about $5 million?
Apparently a Hollywood soundman was having lunch in the Disney Studio cafeteria when he saw an employee taking artwork down from the walls.
Since the cafeteria worker was throwing them out, the sound man asked if he could have them, and also picked up ones that had already been thrown in the trash.
When the soundman died a couple of years ago, his partner found them at their home and contacted Barbagallo.
Hearing the man’s story, everything made sense to Barbagallo. Artwork from the 1999 movie “Iron Giant” was taken home by employees in the same way.
“That’s the only place he would have gotten artwork from, when it was displayed,” Barbagallo said. “I have no doubt that these are authentic.”
“Destino” did get made, in 2003, and was nominated for an Academy Award for best animated short film.
Barbagallo has lectured about the find at universities in California.
Bright lights, big city
Among the high points of Barbagallo’s Hollywood career were meeting animator Chuck Jones, creator of so many Looney Tunes characters, and working with studios like Hanna Barbera and Warner Brothers and directors like Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan.
Barbagallo does repairs on broken art and other sensitive material, and determines how art and movie materials can be used and how they will react to conditions, such as temperature.
Never forgetting Bayonne
Barbagallo attended Horace Mann School and Bayonne High School, and received his Bachelor of Fine Arts from the School of Visual Arts in New York.
He left Bayonne in 1996 and has many fond memories.
“You don’t see the civility in Hollywood that you do here,” he said. “There’s an honesty about Bayonne and a sort of simplicity.”
He fondly remembers the Globe Delicatessen and recalls his first job locally, at the Toys R Us on Route 440, where he assembled children’s bicycles.
“The most constructive thing about my life in Bayonne was that my parents would take me to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on a regular basis on weekends,” he said. “Without that, I wouldn’t be the same person that I am.”
Character traits were also forged in his hometown.
“Bayonne taught me to stand up for what I believe, never feel funny about standing up, and not to be afraid about being honest,” Barbagallo said.
Joseph Passantino may be reached at JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.