Don Vliet and Agostinho Rodrigues by Steve Froy

One of the many myths surrounding Don’s early years involves his association with a Portuguese sculptor called Agostinho Rodrigues (sometimes written as Augustino Rodriquez). Don’s story is that he trained under this artist and appeared on a weekly television programme with him sculpting wild animals at Griffith Park Zoo.

Searches for information about Rodrigues (using variations on the spelling of his name) have come to nothing.

However, in 2003 a bit more about Rodrigues, Don and animal sculpting came to light. The Rhino art box Riding Some Kind Of Unusual Skull Sleigh included a book called Splinters, a collection of personal photos and other ephemera that had been selected by Don and Jan. Amongst this fascinating collection were three newspapers cuttings from 1951 that finally gave us some background and concrete evidence about the Don and Rodrigues connection.

Los Angeles Examiner

Date: unknown (early January 1951)


Donald Vliet (left), 9 year old sculptor, with the model which won him first prize among students of the Griffith Park modelling classes.

With him is Peter Conway, 5, who won Achievement Award. Both of these young Los Angeles sculptors exhibited models of elephants.

Unknown newspaper (possibly LA Times)

Date: early February 1951


Awards were made yesterday to clay modeling students at Griffith park Zoo by the City Recreation and Park Department.

Don Vliet, 10, of 3467 Waverly Drive, won first prize with his entry of several clay models.

Second prize went to Ronald Hill, 10, of 2689 Waverly Drive, while 6 year old Hugh Tower, 4940 Lindley Drive, took third prize. About 300 entries were judged.

The models were made by more than 100 youngsters and adults, students at the week-end classes conducted by Agostinho Rodrigues on Sundays between 1 and 3pm.

All modeling materials were supplied by the City Recreation and Park Department.

[picture caption] JUNIOR SCULPTORS – Agostinho Rodrigues, center, instructor of the City Recreation and Park Department clay modelling classes, looks at models with Don Vliet, 10, right, who won first prize in contest and Ronald Hill, 10 who won second prize

Los Angeles Examiner

Monday 5 February 1951


With his clay model of a polar bear, Don Vliet, 10, at 3467 Waverly Drive, won the first prize blue ribbon in the monthly modeling contest at Griffith Park Zoo yesterday.

It was the second straight blue ribbon for the Invanhoe Elementary School fifth grader, who has attended sculptor Agostinho Rodrigues’ free Sunday art class at the zoo for five months.

Second place went to Roland Hill, 10, of 2689 Waverly Drive, Don’s fellow fifth grader who moulded his spotted leopard under Don’s exclusive direction. Ronald never attended the art class.

Another ‘outsider’, Hugh Tower, 6, of 4940 Lindley Avenue, Encino, won third prize with a group that included a bear, two penguins, two birds and a monkey.

[picture caption] PRIMES FOR NEW LAURELS – Getting a good look at Cleo, a lion cub, who will be the next subject of the monthly modeling content at Griffith Park Zoo, is Don Vliet, 10. Lad holds ribbon he just won and his prize clay model of a polar bear. Head keeper Charles Allen cuddles 5 month old animal.

So, Agostinho Rodrigues, known as ‘Tino’ to his friends and family, was a real person and not a figment of Don’s fertile imagination. He was a sculptor and Don did train with him. Whether this training consisted of more than the Sunday morning sessions for five months at the zoo is not known.

Here is another photograph of Agostinho Rodrigues (in the centre) with Don and other children and parents. I’m pretty sure this is from 1951 too. Thanks to Corey George for sending it along to me.

Then, in 2004 one of Rodrigues’s sculptures appeared on eBay. Interestingly, as can be seen, the sculpture is of an animal, a seal. It is signed and dated, 1954.

A year later another of his sculptures, this time of a horse dated 1953, was also sold on eBay. (Unfortunately I’ve lost the images I had of that sculpture – although, I think, it may have been the same one as pictured on the AR Gallery page).

The claim about the television show has still not been verified one way or the other. No trace of a programme has been found. Even if it did happen it’s very unlikely such a programme would have been recorded. It would almost certainly have been a live show broadcast on a local station sometime around 1951 – 1953. No record of it is likely to remain. Unless someone comes forward who actually saw the show or was involved in producing it, and that’s unlikely now 55+ years on, this is one story we’ll have to take Don’s word for.

Penguins in Madeira

(Note: this section was completely updated and rewritten in 2023 to take account of new information that has been sent to me and provided in the comments section.)

Tino was born around 1912 in Funchal, the capital of Madeira, a group of four islands which is an autonomous region of Portugal off the north west African coast. His family was was very poor and from an early age he struggled to get by, selling newspapers on the street from the age of five. It seems he had a natural talent for sculpting animals and would sell his works to tourists to earn extra money for his family.

At the age of ten he tried to sell one of his pieces to Dr Gunther Maul,  who had been sent by the Portuguese government to reorganise the zoological exhibits on Madiera. Maul gave the young Tino a job at the Madeira Natural History Museum (not sure you could get away with that these days – sf).

When he was 18 he won a competition sponsored by the British Museum to create a display about sharks. During his time in the UK it seems he created a number of sculptures of well-known people, including the poet T.S. Eliot, although none of these have come to light as far as I know.

There is conflicting information about when Tino was sent to the US on behalf of the Portuguese government to study at the New York Museum of Natural History, one date given is 1940 while another says it was at the end of the Second World War. I think the earlier date is most likely because there is another story about him almost being drafted. The ensuing legal proceedings appear to have affected his future attempts to gain US citizenship, which he never achieved.

In 1944 he created a huge two tonne sculpture of Bishop Charles Manuel Grace (1881-1960), founder of the United House of Prayer for all People (see ‘Ephemera’ page for more details).

At some point he moved to Los Angeles where he lived and worked. He set up as a professional sculptor producing sculptures (of animals principally) and architectural fittings, but gave his time to work with children to help them develop their artistic skills. It was when he was giving lessons at Griffiths Park Zoo that a young Don Vliet came under his influence.

He developed his own unique sculpture form utilising a ground glass method which was called ‘Vidro’. See the ‘Ephemera’ page listed below to see his publicity leaflet and a magazine article about this process.

He seems to have made a success of this business, at least the LA Times called it ‘profitable’ when it reported that he was giving up his business to become a dollar-a-year art teacher for the Parks & Recreation Department (see the ‘Ephemera’ page for the LA Times article and more details).

It is possible that in the late 1960s he was also involved in the International Executive Service Corps which since 1964 has been a U.S. non-profit organization that fosters private sector development in the economically developing world. It was, and still is, based in Washington DC.

I believe Tino passed away in 1995 whilst living in Washington State.



Agostinho Rodrigues – Sculpture Gallery – images of many of Tino’s pieces that I have found or been sent by their proud owners

Agostinho Rodrigues – Ephemera – a selection of interesting newspaper and magazine articles about Tino and some rare family photographs



The search for Agostinho Rodrigues continues … Can you help at all? Do you know anything about him? Do you have one of his sculptures? Please contact

A few years ago someone contacted the Radar Station as they were also on the trail of Rodriquez and had created a web page showing several of his sculptures. Unfortunately that web page didn’t last long and the person doing it is no longer contactable. So, if that was you and you’re reading this please get in touch again and let us know how your search is going.



  1. Tino was my uncle, we can help you with quite a bit of his history. Feel free to get in touch with me. I’m sure that whatever I can’t answer my father can. We would be happy to help in anyway. Uncle Tino was a remarkable man.

    1. Hello Fawn,

      My name is Greg Davies and I’m assistant professor of Art History at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario (Canada). I’m currently researching Don Van Vliet’s art and I would be interested to learn more about Agostino’s career and his work at the City Recreation and Park Department. I wonder if you might be able to assist?

      Many thanks,

      Greg Davies
      School of the Arts
      McMaster University
      Hamilton, ON

      1. Agostinho Rodrigues was born on May 27, 1912 not in the Azores as stated, but in the city of Funchal, in the island of Madeira, which is part of a different group of Portuguese islands in the Atlantic:

        I found an article that details his life in the Independent Press-Telegram (Long Beach, CA), September 24, 1967, an OCR of that text can be seen here:

        Most data therein is trustworthy, but some tidbits are likely exaggerated (“his family was extremely poor and lived in a small hut with a dirt floor”) and there are a few errors. He was then 55 years old (not 54) and he did obtain a grant by the government of Portugal to study in the United States, but not as stated at the end of World War II, but in 1940.

        As a young man in Madeira he also worked as a cartoonist for satirical newspaper “Re-Nhau-Nhau”, published in Funchal.

        The Social Security Death Index has him deceased on August 25, 1995 in the state of New York (last known residence in Anacortes, Skagit, Washington, 98221):

        Unfortunately I’ve been unable to verify this info.

        1. Ucle tini lived in Washington state when he passed away.

          1. Tino*…and from the family stories told growing up…that’s not an exaggeration. He started of extremely humble beginnings.

          2. That’s probably why I was able to get one of your uncle’s carved gorillas at a market in Seattle. It’s beautiful.

          3. Hi Fawn

            Would you be able to get in touch with me about your uncle Agostinho Rodrigues’s work? I’m trying to track down a particular portrait sculpture from 1940 made in London and I’d be grateful for any info you had.

            Many thanks


    2. I discovered a sculpture that my late husband bought and it says agostinho rodrigues 1952 its of a man with a coat and a hat , the hat seems like the one that the postman used…. color brown….. and in front of the statue has “period 1910” can you tell me something about it ? thank you.

    3. Fawn,

      I would be truly interested in seeing any pictures you might have from the early 60s of your uncle Tino working…I just located my father Jean Keith Murray (see my post below) two years ago … he worked for Mr. Rodgriques fabricating things for Hollywood and fine stores I believe. My father moved to Alaska in 1968 to homestead and stayed (was divorced from my Mom). My dad, a bit of an artist to did plastering for a living (and helped create the Mammoths at LaBrea Tar Pits with the sculptor Howard Ball) enjoyed his time with Agostinho and talks about it often. Since i was under two when my Dad (who had epilepsy) left, it has been a time of catching up to everything about him these last two years. This is yet another piece about his life and if pictures could reveal anything that I could use in the memory book of his life that i am putting together, that would be wonderful. Thanking you in advance for any info or kindness that you could share in this regard,

      Sandy Murray
      (i can give you contact info offline of these posts if you email me separately at

      1. correction about the time Jean Keith Murray worked with Agostinho: it was late 50s to early 60s…met Agostinho through VA …dad hospitalized and doing work with clay in hospital art department when Rodrigues visited. Dad ended up working with AR after that and built a “shed” as dad called it, for AR to do his fabricating and dry his molds. Dad talks enthusiastically about the glass crushing system and fabricating replicas of museum pieces with AR.

        1. I’ll ask my dad. The oldest photos I’ve seen of uncle Tino are late 60s but dad may have more than I know about. He did love his clay! It was an ever present medium. One of the last times I saw him before he passed I had a friend with me and it turned into an impromptu lesson in clay and sculpting.

    4. Hi Fawn

      Not sure if this link is dead now but…I posted on here about a lamp I have from Agostino Rodrigues. Copyright 1958 number 502

      Would love to have a bit of history. From reading the links here is it possible he created this to be sold in finer departments stores? Any info would be helpful.

  2. I recently acquired an original of Agostinho Rodrigues signed 1953. It is a beautiful black horse head 13″ in height. I am interested in as much information as I can gather. It is a beautiful piece and one I am proud to have in my collection.

    Thank you.

    1. Hi Judson, my name is Miguel. I got a statue of Agostinho Rodriguez, i got the certificate of authenticity, and I want to ask you, if you could be interested about to buy it..Its beautiful…Its a head like an Asiatic soldier..Thanks.. any question, you can contact me by email. I live in California EU.

  3. I’ve been very curios about my sculpture. So thrilled to have found this page.
    I have a signed and dated rooster that my father gave me years ago. It is an original as well.
    I would be very interested in learning more about Agostinho. My father owned an auto body shop in Culver City, your uncle was a customer of his. He gifted it to my father after he had some repairs done.
    It’s beautifully sculpted, I’m proud of it as well.
    Thank you

  4. I have a lamp signed Agostino Rodrigues 1958, a symbol next to date and the numbers 502. The base is a sculpted head which I would describe as as Asian in appearance. I first thought Bhuddist in nature but not so sure. Sculpted base is approx 14 inches. It sits on a piece of granite atop a carved wood base. I’ve never seen anything like it. I believe my aunt purchased it. She enjoyed art and lived in San Francisco during that time period. Too bad no info exists on thus artist.

  5. Tino was a friend of my mom and dad. We lived in Mar Vista. My dad used to take my brother, sister and I over to his studio. I have a photo of Tino and me circa 1961 in his back yard studio. I was 7 yrs old. He asked me to pose for the photo on a giant bear that he had sculpted for a park. I wish I could post it here. It is a nice photo of Tino, myself and his bear sculpture. Tino used to come to our house for lunch on Sunday. I have one of his horse sculptures like the one posted above, only it is covered in gold leaf. I remember well his studio with the coragated tin roof, the smell of fiberglass and resin, and all of the molds made of rubber. He was such a nice man, and he was really nice to us 3 kids. I also remember his white station wagon with the tail fins!

    1. Hi Connie,

      I would love to see that photo! My dad, Jean Keith Murray, worked for Agostinho in the early 60s, before working for sculptor Howard Ball. Dad started by building a small enclosure for Tino, then helped with the processing (the glass grinding bit and some design work)and finish work on items made for the Studios and Vegas hotels. My dad had epilepsy, but was a gifted craftsman and got work with other artists because he was also a mix of scientist/builder/craftsman/artist. As such he was always fascinated with Agostinho’s process. I would like to see the environment he spoke about, one of the last places he worked before moving to Alaska to homestead in 1968 where he fashioned a few pottery pieces from the clay he got from river banks! Thanks for reading this and hoping we can connect with a photo and perhaps other anecdotes. You and I are about the same age (i was born in ’56) and my dad had a son with a new wife in 1960 (my brother Bob), a baby when Dad worked for Tino. I did not grow up with my dad and only found him again in 2013. So even though you may not ever have seen him, even a photo that just shows the area he worked is something of a connecting dot as I put together my Dad’s bio :) …Thanks in advance and you can reach me at the email

      Sandy Murray

  6. My name is Gene Levin and I was born in Hollywood,CA in 1955.
    I can still very well remember watching regularly as a young child on a Los Angeles television a show broadcast from The Griffith Park Zoo (currently The Los Angeles Zoo.)Each show featured a young boy sitting on a stool inside an enclosure with a bird or an animal that he was sculpting out of clay. There was a man with a
    black suit and bow tie who would be standing outside the cage speaking about the origin and feeding habits of the particular subject being sculpted. Periodically,the man would say ” And now,let’s see how our little friend is coming along”…the camera would then focus on the young boy in the process of forming and finally completing his sculpture.
    I never knew at that time that the boy sculptor was Don Vliet and the adult the Portuguese sculptor Augustinho Rodrigues,but I remember that when I was 5 or so in 1960 I would tune the show in on our black and white television after having watched a morning childrens show and some cartoons.
    Years later in 1977,I met Don “Captain Beefheart”
    at a performance at The Keystone Theatre in Berkley,CA. I had a concert bulletin with his photo that I pulled off a streetlamp,many were posted.I spoke with him a few minutes,then we sat at a table and he drew me a picture of birds and animals with a ballpoint pen which he and his wife Jan then signed and dated 4/24/77. I still have that drawing.
    So glad to have had these experiences.I thought you might like to hear from someone who can confirm that Don Van Vliet meant what he said about sculpting at the zoo on a television program.
    Happy New Year, Gene Levin.

  7. I was in Bakersfield visiting family for Thanksgiving and I came across an extremely beautiful sculpture of an asian woman playing a harplike instrument at a local antiques dealer. It is signed and dated by Agustinho rodrigues in 1955. It was so beautiful I purchased it immediately and brought the wall hanging back to Canada with me. I was trying to get some information about the sculptor and came across this website. Very interesting stories! I would love to see more of his work

  8. I was in a giant antique mall in Wichita, KS searching for Oriental antiques and way in the back, on a shelf amongst some old dishes and plates, was the most beautiful sculpture of a fish. It was Asian in appearance and since I am drawn to Asian arts and antiques I purchased it immediately. It was quite a bit of money for a dusty fish sculpture but I just had to have it. I took it home, cleaned all of the dust off of it, and noticed the signature towards the bottom of Agostinho Rodrigues along with a date of 1951. I tried to research the artist and was able to find almost nothing about him. I came across the website and am very pleased to discover that there are others in my same situation who are searching for information on this very fine, although somewhat elusive, artist.

  9. I have a very nice statue carved from wood signed by Agostinho Rodrigues dated 1952 with a symbol. The primate looks like the kind from The Planet of the Apes and is sitting in a position with deep thoughts. This piece came from a man who traveled many countries. He was an engineer for York International. I am so glad to have found this site and am enjoy learning more about the artist.

  10. I have come across a piece signed and dated by agostinho Rodrigues if any of you are interested in purchasing please contact me 419-262-8696

  11. Hi My name is Miguel, one month ago an old friend who knows I love the sculptures , gave me a beautiful piece, it seems like an Asian or Egyptian face, my friend said its made of wood and it is a brown color. I’d like to know if someone is interested on buy it. I posted some pictures on facebook ( ( ) (

  12. Hi,
    Like others here I am fortunate to have found this website. Have been trying to find information about Agostinho Rodriquez whose signature graces his gorilla carving (1952) with the number 302. Are each of these one-of-a-kind with the number representing the specific carving? Any more information would be appreciated. I believe it would be a great thing if someone created a website for him. We, in turn, could then send pictures of what he carved. He’s an under-appreciated great artist.

    1. I’ll ask my dad. The oldest photos I’ve seen of uncle Tino are late 60s but dad may have more than I know about. He did love his clay! It was an ever present medium. One of the last times I saw him before he passed I had a friend with me and it turned into an impromptu lesson in clay and sculpting. As for the gorrils…my father may have the mold for that piece. We have several of the mold he had left when he passed.

      1. Hello, I am editing the letters of the poet T. S. Eliot, of whom Agostinho Rodrigues sculpted a bust, in London, in early 1940. I wonder, please, if you know anything about this connection, or the fate of the bust – it would be wonderful if it survives somewhere – or any family papers relating to my quest. I do hope you can help you, and look forward to hearing from you. Sincerely, John Haffenden

  13. My father, Jean Keith Murray, worked with Mr. Rodgrigues in the early 60s (in Culver City I believe), fabricating replicas of famous sculptures and facades for the Movie/Television industry. My father was a plasterer by trade but artist in clay and drawing as well. It was an interesting way for an artist to make some money…

    1. I should add that my father is still alive at almost 98 and long-term memory pretty intact. I’ll have to put more questions to him about his work with Agostinho…

  14. We were given two gorilla sculptures by an artist friend. They are signed by Agostinho and dated 1951 and 1952, respectively. They are also numbered, implying there are other reproductions. They are wonderful. Can anyone shed more light? Thank you.

    1. Author

      Would you be willing to send a photo of these pieces so we could add them to this page? If so, please email to

  15. I have a signed piece from AR dated 1955, and number 704. It is a big hand, Palm up, looks almost like wood, but the thumb had to be glued back on so I noticed it is clay…or plaster maybe?

  16. I have 9 of his art albums. He and my great aunt were together up until their deaths. If you interested in them let me know. It includes quite a few news articles related to his life and thoughts on sculpting.

    1. I thought for a moment I wrote that comment and didn’t remember it. Mr Georg e, I do believe we have each found a long lost relative. Aunt Florence was my great aunt. Her sister Ruth my grandmother. I think you pretty well must know my dad! George Wolfe. I’d love to get in touch with y’all.

  17. I met Mr. Rodrigues early spring of 1964. He was staying at our home in Old Westbury, Long Island,
    with my paternal grandmother( she was divorced & widowed) who was his girlfriend. I have some photos of him sitting on the patio with my sister & me, teaching us clay modeling of a horse -all tabletop size!
    I also have photos of him in my, now deceased, grandmothers photo album.
    But what might be of more interest to everyone, I have a 31 page catalog of his art works. Also articles dated 5/19/1966 L.A.. Times and Jan-Mar 1963 Mature Years and a single page sales brochure from Agostinho Rodrigues Co. dated 8/9/1961.
    He gave my family many of his pieces. I have catalog #422 17″ x 9″ penguin and item #821, 26″ x 14″ pastorale which my handy father boxed out & rigged with lighting. Both items I am looking to part with. Other family possessions of his are in Costa Rica. I live outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
    Looking forward to hearing from someone soon…

    1. Hi Ann

      Any lamps perchance in that catalog ? The one I have I would describe as Balinese looking. Copyright 1958 #502

      Do you know if he created these sculptures to be mass produced? It appears to me by the back where the signature lies that it was mass produced. The signature isn’t super crisp.

  18. Hi Fawn

    I meant to supply my email address, if you could get in touch about your uncle Tino? At rose.selavy06 [at] gmail [dot] com. It’s with regards to a portrait bust by him, 1940, for publication in a book.

    Many thanks,


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