Remembering Norman Gaddini . . .

Norman E. Gaddini

The World Has Lost Another Unsung Hero . . .
The Passing of Sonoma County Living Treasure, Norman Gaddini

by Margie Wilson


One of Sonoma County's living treasures and internationally renowned professional artists passed away quietly in his sleep at his home in Sebastopol on June 1 (2007). Norman Gaddini, 96, was an inspiration to all who knew him. Gentle, caring, soft-spoken, and generous, this master artist owned and operated Sonoma County's oldest operating art gallery, the Occidental Fine Art Gallery.

Born in Healdsburg on January 9, 1911, Norman developed an interest in art at an early age. As a boy, he studied cartooning and received art instruction through correspondence courses and in high school. However, like many coming of age during the Great Depression, he was strongly discouraged from pursuing an art career and was pushed towards a more practical career.
Consequently, when enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley, he took business courses.

During a required routine physical examination, a U.C. doctor informed Norman he had a heart murmur. The 20-year old was devastated when he was also told he would not “live past his early forties”. Despite what he referred to as his “death sentence”, he continued his university studies until his father died in a tractor accident. He then returned home to Winters to run, along with his older brother Weaver, the family apricot and almond farm. For the next forty years, there was little time to pursue art, although he took every opportunity to draw and paint. Ranching and hard work apparently “cured his heart”, for the murmur eventually disappeared. He worked the farm until retiring in 1970; finally, he could pursue his passion.

Upon moving to Freestone Ridge in West Sonoma County in 1975, Norman immediately enrolled in an art class at Santa Rosa Junior College and received private instruction from several well-known local watercolor artists. His own style began to evolve while working with pen & ink, acrylics, watercolor, and oils.

However, a major turning point occurred when he attended an outdoor art show and discovered scratchboard, a medium well-suited to his love of detail and realism. Scratchboard was widely used for advertising from the 1920s–1950s and has more recently experienced a renaissance. Its graphic impact, shading possibilities, and ease of use with minimal tools make it a very appealing medium. Scratchboard thus provided an all-important platform to showcase his developed techniques in composition and color. Realistic, minute details were hallmarks of his scratchboard art. His subject matter was drawn from photos of his world travels, especially northern Europe and Scandinavia, and his surroundings. His work reflected his love of sailing, fishing, nature, and landscapes, but he also enjoyed painting still lifes. People appeared as whimsical footnotes or intentionally humorous elements in his art. Today, his work graces galleries and collections around the world.

As Norman reminisced, “It is never too late to start a second career or pursue a dream postponed years before.”

And the world took notice. From under his ever-present hat—usually a European-style beret or walking hat—Gaddini would smile and say he had “no more room on his wall” for his awe-inspiring array of prize-winning ribbons and awards, so he “put them in a box”. Over the years, this humble master artist won Best of Show, First Place, and numerous other awards from art shows including the Sebastopol Apple Blossom Festival, Lodi Annual Art Show, Statewide Art Guild Show, Bodega Bay Fisherman’s Festival, and Luther Burbank Rose Festival. He gave lectures and workshops, and had many exhibitions of his work. If you stopped by the gallery or called him up on a rainy day, he would always be “scratching”.

For more than 15 years, Norman designed the award-winning Sonoma County Fair floriculture exhibits for the Fuchsia Society. He also was one of 12 artists showcased in the premier traveling Vision Sonoma exhibit.

There was a common thread that ran throughout his life. Besides being a prolific artist, he was clever—an an avid inventor. Norman enjoyed problem-solving, and concocting methods and devices to solve problems. He owned 16 U.S. patents, his most recent patent being granted in 2000 (at the age of 89) for a method of repelling rodents and vermin. He designed and was the first to use a plastic pipe irrigation system in his Winters orchard. He was the first to design and utilize a special breathing mask to use when spraying in an orchard. He even designed and patented a functioning ice cream maker that fit in a refrigerator freezer. And, he was the first to perfect an innovative technique combining scratchboard and painting. But most notably, in 1975, he was the first to add full color to black scratchboard, helping to elevate Scratchboard into the field of fine art.

Norman was one of the first artists to take part in the Sonoma County Harvest Fair Art Show, culminating in his creation of the very collectible 1998 and 1999 Harvest Fair posters. Many also knew him through his affiliations with the Art Workshop of Sonoma County and the Artist’s Round Table.

In more recent years, his critically acclaimed instructional art technique book, Mastering the Art of Scratchboard, brought him international recognition as a Master of his craft. His original art was featured in both editions of Sonoma County–Its Bounty cookbooks and in Charles Ewing’s book, The New Scratchboard. [Charles Ewing is the inventor of Claybord.] He designed wine labels for several wineries and vintners, illustrated a children's coloring and activity book on Jack London, designed and illustrated magazine and Conference program covers, and designed full-page ads for a local wholesale nursery as well.

When not painting, Norman pursued other interests. He was an avid sportsman, enjoying fresh and saltwater fishing, and mushrooming. He spent many hours tending his extensive, breathtaking garden. He was a voracious reader who strongly believed in alternative medicine. He also enjoyed family holiday gatherings and playing his electronic organ.

His sweet nature and generosity were legendary. He frequently contributed his artwork to fund-raising auctions for Palm Drive Hospital and numerous other nonprofits. Countless organizations and causes were the recipients of his philanthropy, including the World Wildlife Federation, the Madrone Audubon Society, the Smithsonian, the Southwest Indian Children’s Fund, Governor Schwarzenegger’s California Recovery Team, and the Twin Hills Fire District, to mention just a few.

In addition, he was known for his kindness to animals. He fed generations of raccoons on his front doorstep, befriended stray cats, and adopted Spanky, his brother’s dog, after Weaver passed away.

And, he was a wonderful friend, touching the lives of many who are grateful to have known him.

Norman was a lifelong bachelor, due in part to that early misdiagnosis by the U.C. doctor. At his family’s request, no services were held. He was inurned next to his brother Weaver, who died in 1991, and his parents, in Sacramento, California.

Norman published a definitive book about Scratchboard Art.
It is available through our website! Click
here for details.

To see what Norman has created for WORDSWORTH™, click here.

To return to our web page about Norman and Scratchboard Art, click here.

To visit our Norman Gaddini Online Gallery, click

To return to our main home page, click here.



© 2007­2018 by Margie Wilson. All Rights Reserved.
Page Updated: January 2018