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June 17, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Local artist and writer Domenic diCiacca’s world is full of dragons. His mythical creatures sell cars, dream of becoming cowboys, discuss philosophy and try to eat ice cream (a difficult feat if you breathe fire).
Dragon Stew, published in October, is the first book that diCiacca both wrote and illustrated. This a volume of poetry centers on a human narrator who gives manicures to dragons. While the manicurist does nails, the dragons recite poems to him. Some of the poems are geared toward children, such as “Keepsies,” a poem about marble-playing dragons. Other poems, such as one that portrays a dragon as a bad habit, are geared toward adults.
“I think it’s a wonderful book,” says Greg Michaelson, diCiacca’s editor and a Columbia resident. “I’ve always liked his sense of balance between verses that would captivate kids and that sometimes can intrigue adults, too.”
Dragon Stew is available at Tiger Tales Bookstore & Espresso Bar and through the Columbia Art League. The self-published author and full-time artist from Hallsville says he drew dragons because he had nothing in the real world to compare them to, so he had total creative freedom. But one gets the sense he was also drawn to dragons because he likes anything mystical and mythical, as is seen in other creations. For example, he does fantasy portraits, pictorials of people as knights or princesses.
“He manages to put a little mystery and fun into everyday life,” Michaelson says. “This attitude comes out in his poems and drawings.”
Over the years, diCiacca has taken on numerous artistic activities beyond writing and drawing.
Although diCiacca started his writing career with children’s books, a market he thought would be easy to break into because he saw more children’s books published than other books, he has also worked as a woodworker and architect. Combining these skills, he designed his home, a work of art in itself. The teal-roofed yellow house has a floor inlaid with an intricate design of a dragon and two dolphins, built-in bookshelves laden with science fiction novels, and walls splashed with warm pink and yellow.
One of diCiacca’s favorite poems in Dragon Stew is about Scotland, the dragons’ beloved homeland. He describes the melancholy of the country:
There’s a weight
To the rains of Scotland
That soaks not just to the skin
But to the driest heart
DiCiacca describes these rains firsthand. He was born in Scotland on Jan. 11, 1950. When he was 8, his family moved to Canada where his father worked as a gold miner. His father was killed by a cave-in at the mine when diCiacca was 12, and the family then moved to Mooseheart, Ill.
DiCiacca attended Blackburn College in Illinois for three years, but instead of finishing his degree in philosophy, he moved to Boston in 1970 and got married. After working a few years at a plumbing, heating and electrical design company, however, diCiacca decided to return to school. He and his wife moved to Missouri where diCiacca attended MU but did not declare a major. But he and his wife divorced when he was 23, and diCiacca, who sees art as “an inappropriate response to stress,” started painting.
Since then, diCiacca has remarried an artist named DJ and has found various outlets for his creativity. Poetry is his most recent form of expression.
Now that Dragon Stew has been published, diCiacca says he would like to complete his other books that are in progress. He just finished What Can You Do When You’ve Got Rhinocerats?, a children’s picture book featuring creatures that are a cross between rhinos and rats. Another project, originally titled The Average Joe’s Book of Fine Poetry, is targeted more to adults, but he jokes he might have to find a new title after NBC aired the show Average Joe. Another current project, A Self-Help Novel, is a treatise on philosophy that “turned itself into a novel.”
DiCiacca likes to take risks in his work, but he says he worries his creative decisions, such as the idea to mix poems for adults and children in Dragon Stew, are too different. “My whole life has been this sort of odd jutting out into reality,” he says.
DiCiacca doesn’t rest after finishing a project. He plans to keep writing and selling portraits, but he would like to focus on sculpture and glassblowing next. He is also learning to play the guitar and says he would love to write songs.
DiCiacca’s personal philosophy emerges from his art and writing. In “Dragon Creed,” a poem from his book, he explains,
For the keys to magic are these:
Maintain perfect concentration
Be conscious in your dreams
And know your desires.
Now the power it takes to turn these keys
Is merely the will to do so...
— Ingrid Ahlgren