Alfonso Iannelli was born in Andretta, Italy in 1888 and came to the United States in 1898 with his family. At an early age he was apprenticed to a jeweler and then to the sculptor Gutzon Borglum. He received his art training through a scholarship to the New York Art Students’ League and at age 18 moved to Cincinnati to work as a lithographer.
Iannelli eventually settled in Los Angeles where he designed posters for vaudeville acts appearing at the Orpheum Theatre Los Angeles. His designs drew the attention of Frank Lloyd Wright’s son John, who introduced his father to Iannelli. One of the most recognizable contributions to that collaboration were the series of “sprites” sculptures for Wright’s Midway Gardens in Chicago. However, over time Wright continued to take credit for these and Iannelli never entered into any further joint commissions.
His work for the Woodbury County Courthouse in Sioux City, IA, designed by Purcell and Elmslie, included monumental sculptures for the building, one of the few Prairie School public commissions to be erected in the United States and certainly the largest ever designed in that style.
Iannelli maintained a studio in Park Ridge, IL, working first with his wife Margaret and later with additional collaborators, expanding the range of work to include commercial design, advertising, and architectural interiors. His work for such firms as Sunbeam, Oster and Eversharp brought him critical acclaim, and commissions for exhibit designs at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair.
He continued working at his studio into the 1960s and designed such commercial icon as the Rock of Gibraltar relief for the Prudential Building in Chicago. He died in Chicago in March, 1965.