Wilna Splivalo

Theme/Style – Modernism, still lifes

Media – Sculptures in clay, plaster and bronze

Artistic Focus – A world-class sculptor before the age of 20, Wilna Splivalo was regarded as a prodigy by her instructors. For reasons unknown, her career was a short one, and her fluid, well-proportioned statues are quite rare.

Career Highlights –

• Wilna Splivalo was born in San Francisco in 1915, into a wealthy and prominent California family. Raised in San Rafael in Marin County, she attended the city’s Dominican Convent.
• By age 17 Splivalo was studying art at the Académie Julian in Paris with Charles-Albert Walhain. She had only been working in clay for six months when her sculpture entitled Cowboy de California, depicting a rider on a bucking bronco, was accepted for exhibition in the 1933 Paris Salon. The youngest person ever to participate in the Salon, she was to exhibit there again in 1934, with a second cowboy sculpture entitled The Outlaw.
• Later in 1934 Splivalo returned to California, marking her twentieth Atlantic crossing by the age of 18. Within a month of her arrival, she was in competition with famed San Francisco sculptor Beniamino Bufano over which of their statues of St. Francis of Assisi would be chosen for the city by its art commission. Ultimately the commission ruled in favor of the 22-foot Bufano piece, but in 1935 Splivalo's third sculpture to be accepted to the Paris Salon was a four-foot figure of St. Francis.
• Splivalo exhibited her sculptures in San Francisco in late 1935, at the home of local executive Carl Henry; and in 1936 her works were exhibited in Pasadena.
• It was in Pasadena that her sculptures were noticed by people in the Hollywood film industry, and the 21-year-old Splivalo took a job in the plaster department of Warner Bros.-First National Studios, creating sculptures for movie sets.
• In 1940 Splivalo exhibited with the Society for Sanity in Art at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, where her Head of Christ drew the attention of local art critics.
• Little is known of Splivalo’s activities after 1940. She eventually married William Bonzi and settled in Oregon.
• Wilna Splivalo Bonzi passed away in Newberg, Oregon in 2004.