Alumna quits job in pursuit of art passion


Painter Layla Fanucci inspects the mysterious writing chalked on the wall of grape-press building at her Saint Helena home on Saturday January 29, 2015.

Layla Fanucci stood on the foot of her couch contemplating the big, blank space that resided on her living room wall. The inability to find an art piece lively enough to fill the space is what led the former music teacher to quit teaching music after 25 years and pick up a paint brush.

That yearning to fill a void on the living room wall turned into a lucrative and creatively fulfilling business for the SF State alumna. Fanucci has sold almost 300 works of art and has featured her pieces in exhibits from New York to Morocco.

“She is fearless and has taught me it is never too late to follow your heart,” said Nicole Fanucci, Layla’s daughter.

After creating and displaying her first work of art, Fanucci’s friends and family began to make their own personal requests for the musician-turned-artist.

“That’s how I started,” Fanucci said. ” People asked me to paint for them and the rest is history.”

From there, the artist came to a crossroads between her two passions – art and music. Even though her husband suggested doing each part time, Fanucci knew that if she wanted to earnestly pursue a career in art, she had to give it her all.

Layla Fanucci displays the scale of her latest room sized painting at her home in Saint Helena on Saturday, Jan. 29.
[/media-credit] Layla Fanucci displays the scale of her latest room sized painting at her home in Saint Helena on Saturday, Jan. 29.

“I had to build a body of work so I said to my husband that I have to quit teaching even though we have two kids in college,” Fanucci said. “I told him ‘give me two years, if I don’t make as much as I did teaching, I’ll go back.’”

After showing her pieces to an art consultant in New York and finding her niche in the art world, Fanucci was making more in those two years than she would’ve had made in 17 years of teaching music at a local Catholic school in Napa Valley.

At her first exhibit in New York, which Fanucci was told was a ‘make it or break it’ for her art career, the international artist sold nine out of the 16 pieces on display that day.

What sets Fanucci’s work apart from the rest of the art world is the depth of layers that are present in her pieces. The artist sometimes layers as many as three different city landscapes on top of one another, creating a completely different image with a hint of each city’s architecture peeking through the final work.

“I love cities,” Fanucci said when asked about the inspiration behind the city landscapes.. “My father and grandfather were architects and I think cities incorporate a lot of things I was raised with.”

While Fanucci made waves in the art world for her unique style of cityscapes, her and her husband Robert, were also beginning their own label at a family-owned winery in their hometown. Charter Oak wine celebrated its 18th birthday last year and has become distinguished for their traditional wine press and their chemical and sugar-free red wines.

Fanucci is grateful for her ability to make a living based on her background in music, her passion for art and her husband’s 100-year-old family history of winemaking, without having to compromise what she knows or loves.

“There has never been a day, in all these years, where I’ve woken up and said ‘oh, I have to paint today’ and that’s a real passion,” Fanucci said.

In 2006, Fanucci and her husband created a symbiotic blend of both their passions: their boutique winery combined with Layla’s artwork displayed on select bottles.

“The wine complements the art, the art complements the wine,” Fanucci said. “When we did the merger (of both) that’s when Charter Oak took off.”

For Fanucci, it doesn’t matter if she is teaching music to young children, selling paintings for $100,000 a piece or spending the day picking the finest grapes in their field. It’s all about creating something.

“When I look back at my life, I don’t look at it like I’ve been painting 18 years and music 25 years,” Fanucci said. “I look at it like I just changed mediums. I look at my life as just creating, that’s what I do and I think that’s what artists love. They love to create, it doesn’t matter what.”