The self-taught genius of an achiever; Marino Auriti and his Encyclopedic Palace of the World

By | June 23, 2016

Standing 11-feet tall Marino Auriti’s Palazzo Enciclopedico or Encyclopedic Palace is an imposing presence at the entrance to Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum where more than 100 works representing the finest examples of American Folk Art are on display.

According to his granddaughter, Mary Firmani van Derburgh, “My grandfather was a great dreamer and put much love into building the Encyclopedic Palace.” Indeed, he did.

Italian-born Marino Auriti and his family fled Italy and its fascist regime sometime during the 1920s, living in Brazil before making their way to America around 1938. Though he made his living as an auto mechanic, his life-long passion was architecture. He took a few classes before World War I, then rekindled that interest years later by making elaborate models in the back of his garage.

Created over a three-year period, Auriti’s Encyclopedic Palace was built on a 1:200 scale and is made of wood, plastic, glass, metal, hair combs and model kit parts, and topped by a TV antenna. Clear celluloid was used to simulate 792 windows and the entrances were crafted with swinging metal doors.

Auriti envisioned the Encyclopedic Palace would be located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. spreading across 16 city blocks. Its central tower, topped by a metal spire, would be 136 stories tall, reaching 2,322 feet into the sky and would feature four arched main entrances, each with its own inscription and flag. Inside, 126 columns would support bronze statues of writers, scientists, and artists—past, present, and future—as well as research laboratories, restaurants, and auditoriums.

Auriti backed his vision with elaborate blueprints, a 1955 patent application, and a handwritten manifesto describing his creation. According to Auriti, the Encyclopedic Palace was “an entirely new concept in museums, designed to house all of mankind’s immense knowledge and discoveries—from the first wheel to the satellite.”

Though his elaborate plan was never carried out, Encyclopedic Palace exemplifies the bold singularity of many contemporary self-taught achievers whose grandiose vision continues to inspire others to pursue their dreams and to think big.

Organized by the American Folk Art Museum, Self-Taught Genius is on view through September 11 in the Main Exhibition Galleries, East Building.