By RICHARD PEARSALL
Anna Branco, 80, of Shamong, remembers growing up with a
brother who drew "everywhere he could find a place,"
including the street outside their South Camden
The drawings were good enough that the street-sweepers
pushing brooms outside would steer around Larry Tofani's
"I used pieces of plaster I'd find in old houses,"
Tofani, 79, recalled this week. "It showed up like chalk on
That was a long time ago, during the Depression.
But Tofani kept drawing, and on Friday he presented one
of his paintings to the Navy in a small ceremony at the
The painting, of the USS New Jersey, will be given to
the Navy Museum in Washington, D.C., where it will become
part of the museum's permanent collection and available for
exhibits there or elsewhere.
Tofani, who drew for The Philadelphia Inquirer, TV Guide
and the Budd Co. before retiring to Florida several years
ago, said that he painted New Jersey because he wanted to
do something for his old hometown.
He remembers Camden fondly as a vibrant industrial city
and wants young people there today to be proud of it,
That's why he has completed a second oil painting of the
battleship, which he hopes to one day present to the
Secretary of the Navy on the deck of the ship, now docked
on the Camden Waterfront and being readied for visitors.
And that's why he made the second painting more vivid
than the first.
The first painting shows the battleship firing its 16-
inch guns at an island off Japan and some splashes in the
The second painting is his Star Wars version, Tofani
said, with planes in the air, explosions everywhere and a
line of dozens of other ships on the horizon.
"I wanted to paint it like it really was," he said of
the action against the Japanese island of Honshu.
He knows because he was there. He served aboard an oil
tanker that was part of a huge battle group, consisting of
combatants and support ships.
And he thinks the action will attract young people and
call their attention not only to the battleship but to the
contribution Camden made to industry, including
Tofani himself worked on the construction of the USS
South Dakota, another battleship, at the shipyard of the
New York Shipbuilding Co. in 1943 before he enlisted in the
The paintings of the battleship did not come easy for
Tofani, despite a lifetime of experience as an artist,
including work designing the outside configuration of the
Metroliner rail car.
For the last few years Tofani has suffered from macular
degeneration, a condition that gradually robs its victims
of their vision and has left him all but blind in one
His struggle with depth perception, he said, has forced
him to switch from a brush to a palette knife and master
"You adjust," he said.
"An artist paints."