GAUTIER, Miss. (AP) — It took Hurricane Katrina for valuable paintings of the late Romolo Roberti to be taken out of the closet and put on public display at the Robert Henry Adams Fine Art Gallery in Chicago.

Kathy McDaniel of Madison, Ala., and her sister, Carolyn Roberti Belton of Ocean Springs, grew up knowing their late immigrant grandfather loved to paint.

‘‘Our family did not know that Romolo Roberti would be a significant name in the art world of today,’’ McDaniel said. ‘‘He kept the majority of his life’s work stored away and always said that an artist’s work isn’t appreciated until after their death.’’

When Roberti died in 1988, the family discussed what to do with his paintings. Roberti had retired during their youth and moved to Gautier to be near family.

‘‘We didn’t know and we did nothing. It wasn’t until Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast that it became important for us to find an answer to our problem. Both my father and sister lost their homes in the storm, but our storage building with the paintings survived,’’ said McDaniel.

About a year after the storm, McDaniel took the first steps in finding a home for the pieces by using an Internet search engine to find others interested in her grandfather’s work.

‘‘I Googled Romolo Roberti’s name and it came back with three hits,’’ she said.

Providing some information on Roberti was a historical Illinois art site, a painting named ‘‘Roofs’’ in the Western Illinois Art Gallery and an old article from the University of Northern Iowa where Romolo Roberti directed the decoration of the Commons at that school in 1942.

Everything pointed to Chicago, McDaniel said.

McDaniel contacted the Robert Henry Adams’ gallery and director Ken Probst flew to the coast to examine the works.

‘‘When I walked in the door and saw them, I thought ’This is amazing,’’’ Probst said.

The artwork had been packed and stored 20 to 30 years before being rediscovered.

Probst said a 52-page catalog outlines Roberti’s works. The Roberti family attended a recent grand opening at the gallery, which attracted about 300 art lovers, he said.

‘‘The paintings sell on the low side for $7,500 and the high side, $55,000. There are 36 included in the first exhibition of a total of 250,’’ Probst said.

During McDaniel’s research, she learned little gems about their grandfather.

‘‘The exposed time capsules from 1973 contained Romolo’s life story. It began in 1912 when he came to America with his father on a ship from Italy to Ellis Island. It describes how at the age of 14, not speaking the language and (with) only enough money for one month, he decided to stay in America when his father went back to Italy,’’ said McDaniel.

‘‘It tells the story of the boy Romolo finding his way in a foreign country alone and how he struggled to become an educated artist. He eventually lands a job at Cornell University in the maintenance department and earned an unconventional education there before moving in 1923 to Chicago and enrolling at the Art Institute of Chicago for formal training. The story concludes in 1967,’’ McDaniel said.

AP-CS-11-28-07 0102EST

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