E’ville Obituary: 35-year resident, Artist Jerry Lee Carniglia (1946 – 2015)

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Jerry Lee Carniglia, a 35-year resident of Emeryville, succumbed to prostate cancer last June 7th, 2015. A prolific artist, Carniglia was a fixture of Emeryville’s Park Avenue District where he had his studio and could often be seen biking through the city with his signature red framed glasses.

“He was SO SO loved by the community” says noted fellow artist Catherine Courtenaye, who has lived in the Emeryville Artists Coop for over 25 years. “Jerry and I first got to know each other studying Italian in the ’80s. He had the whole group in stitches every session. We were both studying the language in preparation for art pilgrimages to Italy. Our friendship deepened as his dedication to abstract painting became his primary pursuit. While sharing his deep philosophical inquiries, he still kept me laughing.”

Carniglia will be honored at UC Berkeley’s Townsend Center for the Humanities this spring, with an exhibition of large paintings that were completed 2014–2015.

Born and raised in San Francisco, Jerry joined the US Navy in 1965 aboard the USS Strong. He began his military career as a humble “deck swabber” but was eventually reassigned to train as a radar operator where he engaged in sorties up and down the Mekong Delta in Southern Vietnam.

After leaving the Navy in 1968, Jerry attended College of Marin while continuing his informal apprenticeship learning his father’s cabinetmaking pastime. Jerry discovered his great creative capacity for making artisan furniture as well as learning the building trade that eventually led to a General Contractor license.

Jerry in his Emeryville Studio (Photo: Kim Harrington Photography, 1996)

In 1980 he moved to Emeryville and become part of its embryonic artist colony. Jerry was to make Emeryville home for the rest of his life. He was a luminary of the community, helping his fellow artists and participating in the lively political debates that guided the direction of the changing city. The frequent sightings of Jerry bicycling the streets of Emeryville in his red framed glasses is remembered fondly.

Jerry explored his artisan skills as a furniture-maker and marveled at his own transition into furniture as art. His work was so fine it led to recognition by Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum on the East Coast and The Oakland Museum of California on the West. Eventually Jerry found that cabinetry alone constrained his creative forces, and turned exclusively to painting in 1989 after winning admission to the University of California, Berkeley Department of Art Practice. There he received the James Phelan Award and the Eisner Prize, graduating with an MFA in 1993.


“Painting a Quiet Radical” is a 2012 short featuring Jerry in his studio:
[youtube id=”7m0Q7tMSNJo” width=”620″ height=”360″]
Jerry had numerous solo exhibitions and many collaborative shows, and is represented by Chandra Cerrito Contemporary in Oakland. His work in the permanent collections of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the Berkeley Art Museum. Carniglia was also a founding member of Berkeley Lights, a theatre company. He performed with San Francisco Eureka Theater Company and designed sets for the avant-garde, Emeryville-based MaFishCo.

A monograph on his work, Jerry Carniglia: Paintings, will be available in February. 46 pp, cloth. Please contact Chandra Cerrito Contemporary for more information.

His full obituary can be read on legacy.com

More of Jerry’s contemporary work like this 2011 oil titled “Utterance” can be viewed on his website at JerryCarniglia.com.


Jerry Lee Carniglia: Paintings

Townsend Center for the Humanities
Geballe Room, 220 Stephens Hall
February 1st – June 3rd
9 am – 4 pm
Free and open to the public

A special reception for those that knew him and fans of his work on February 11th at 5pm.

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Rob Arias

is a third generation Californian and East Bay native who lived in Emeryville from 2003 to 2021. Rob founded The E'ville Eye in 2011 after being robbed at gunpoint and lamenting the lack of local news coverage. Rob's "day job" is as a creative professional.


  1. Catherine and Rob – Thanks so much for your touching article in remembrance of Jerry Carniglia and for the beautiful reproductions of his work. His presence was so strong in the artists colony of this area that we’re finding, little by little, that absolutely everyone knew him and considered him a best friend. His heroic effort to stay with us throughout the last five years is etched in the memory. His spectacular abilities as painter, artisan, entrepreneur, bon vivant and his deep Italian sense of family among us makes his remembrance indelible. We are humbled by the absence of his presence . . .

    • Thanks Bob. We’re honored to hopefully draw more awareness to a great resident of this city and clearly someone who left their mark.

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