“He lived up to a criterion I have always admired, uttered by Chaucer’s Wife of Bath: ‘For I have had my world as in my time,’” said Dwight Eddins of his late friend and colleague, professor emeritus Alvin “Al” Sella. Sella died Monday, April 8 at age 93.
Sella worked in the department of art and art history at The University of Alabama for 35 years, retiring in 1996. Sella did not stop then, however, and continued to teach classes until 2010 out of popular demand.
“Al lived about as fully as a human being can live,” Eddins, a UA English professor, said, “sustained by the deep affections and camaraderie of his friends, by his passionate devotion to teaching, and by his love and mastery of an art that took him to his studio early each morning to paint, well on into old age.”
Eddins was a close friend of Sella for more than 40 years. He said he and Sella often had drinks at the University Club and the now long-defunct Solomon’s Downstairs.
“We would talk about everything under the sun, including the arts we practiced. Painting, of course, for him, poetry for me,” Eddins said.
Sella studied art all over the country, including at the Yale School of Fine Arts, Art Students League of New York, Columbia University School of Arts, Syracuse University College of Fine Arts and the University of New Mexico department of art. He won many awards for his work such as The University of Alabama Society of Fine Art’s Distinguished Arts Career Award and the Alabama State Council on Art’s Governor’s Arts Award.
Sella began his tenure at The University of Alabama in 1960 teaching courses in painting and drawing. An excerpt from a 1970’s course catalog describes Sella as a man who certainly knows art.
“But some students don’t understand what he expects of them. He demands near perfection, but also manages to make you appreciate the subject,” according to the course description. “If you can get over your fear of him, it’s a great course.”
Tom Barnes, a UA art professor and long-time friend and colleague of Sella, said Sella will be most remembered as an enthusiastic teacher who wanted to instill passion in his students for making something beautiful.
“He wanted students in his painting, drawing and design classes to care about what they were doing,” Barnes said. “He wanted this in a way that is often missing today.”
Sella felt that true art ultimately came from somewhere deep inside the self and wasn’t superficial, Barnes said.
“He felt that it took struggle and hard work to bring it out of the subconscious,” Barnes said.
Eddins said Sella will be remembered as the finest painter ever to display his art at the University, and as the most powerful, effective teacher his students ever encountered.
“He was very vocal in criticism, which sometimes included swear words in both English and Italian,” Eddins said. “And he was demonstrative, not only drawing a black line through parts of a drawing, which he felt were not up to standard, but occasionally throwing the work out of the window.”
Eddins said Sella’s tactics worked, however, and students normally ended up back in his good graces.
Barnes recalled the times Sella would ride his bicycle around campus with a wooden clothespin holding his Dolce & Gabbana slacks away from the chain and revealing his trademark red socks.
“Many a student was jolted as Al would ride right up on them from behind before laying on his bike’s bugle horn to warn them he was coming through,” Barnes said.
Sella was preceded in death by his wife, Maria Sella, his parents, Jospeh and Mary Aimone Sella and his brother Eugene Sella. He is survived by his three sons, David, Alvin and Nicholas Sella and his two grandchildren, Nicholas and Anna Kathryn Sella.