Born in Italy and brought to the United States at the age of 11, Nicola D'Ascenzo was originally apprenticed to a stonecutter and to a woodworker, but he acquired his formal training in painting in the evenings at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Arts (now part of Philadelphia's University of the Arts) and the New York School of Design -- although he did return to Italy briefly to study at the Scuola Libera in Rome. D'Ascenzo's family had been armor makers in Italy, and he was talented in a wide range of artistic endeavers, including easel painting (in fact he had numerous exhibitions of his paintings during his lifetime) as well as those pursuits which we associate with the studio: stained glass, mosaics, and mural painting. In an interview published in 1936 in the magazine Pennsylvania Arts and Sciences
, D'Ascenzo boasted that he was earning a fair livelihood before the age of 21 as an interior decorator; the decorations in the chancel of the church of the Philadelphia Graphic Sketch Club (now the Fleisher Art Memorial at 7th and Catharine sts. in Philadelphia) were executed by him when he was 17 years old. In 1896 D'Ascenzo opened his studio in Ludlow Street in Philadelphia, and by the 1920s he had moved the studio to 1604 Summer Street in Philadelphia.
During the early days before the Studio achieved its great successes, D'Ascenzo himself made the first rough sketch for the design, but later the work was a collaborative effort likened by D'Ascenzo to "an orchestra composed of a group of artists but directed by an individual. It is in the ancient guild spirit where men worked for the love of the thing they created." It is not surprising that we find an echo here in D'Ascenzo's words of John Ruskin and the belief that the medieval worker differed from Ruskin's contemporaries in that he found joy in his labor.