Authors Posts by Melissa Arnold

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Reviewed by Melissa Arnold

Author Dave Dircks

Dave Dircks of Stony Brook loved sharing bedtime stories with his children when they were small. But the stories his kids liked the most were the ones Dircks dreamed up himself, with zany characters and subtle lessons.

As a professional illustrator and advertiser, Dircks, 56, has spent his career painting and drawing for other people. But in April, he published his own book for children, “Astronaut Arnie.” The timing is perfect as it ties in with the upcoming 50th anniversary of the moon landing.

The story follows Arnie as he sets out to visit Mars, only to fall asleep in his spaceship. When he wakes up, he’s shocked to learn he traveled farther than he planned — a lot farther. Paired with Dircks’ vibrant and detailed illustrations, the story is both educational and entertaining.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Dircks about his latest venture.

Did you always want to be an illustrator and writer?

It developed. There were seven kids in my family growing up, and our parents were so busy caring for us that we were responsible for our own entertainment. Many of us sought our own creative outlets, and I was often in the basement building things or drawing. I seemed to excel in math, music and art, so from a very young age I made friends and impressed teachers by drawing for them. That was the thing I did really well, and it was what made me come alive. I studied at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, which honed my skills in illustration.

Did you work in the field right away?

When I graduated college, I worked as a commercial illustrator doing book covers for Scholastic and other companies, as well as magazine illustrations. When I got married, we got pregnant right away and I needed to find a way to make enough money to support my family. I went into accounting for a while and made a good living, but eventually ended up in advertising and marketing. For 24 years I’ve owned my own agency, Dircks Associates in St. James, that’s more of a creative boutique.

When did you start to think about storytelling?

When my kids were young, my wife would always read to them and encourage me to do the same. But what I preferred to do was come up with my own stories, to turn out the lights and open up their imaginations.

Is that where Astronaut Arnie came from?

At the time, he didn’t have a name, but I had a story about an astronaut that kept oversleeping on his journey to Mars. It was a way for me to teach them a bit about the solar system while still being funny and goofy, which my kids liked. Arnie has great ambition, but he’s also imperfect, and they really responded to that.

Would you say that’s the message in this book?

Sure. It’s about having flaws, but learning to make the most of it instead of getting angry or upset. It also shares some basic facts about the planets and space in a way that’s engaging.

What made you want to develop this story into a book?

My brother, Rob Dircks, has written and published his own books. I illustrated a book of his called “Release the Sloth” which did pretty well, and then a children’s book called “Alphabert! An A-B-C Bedtime Adventure.” After that, my daughter Sam reminded me of the astronaut story and encouraged me to illustrate it.  It was probably the most developed of all the stories I told my kids, and it was a favorite.

Rob ended up starting his own publishing company, called Goldfinch Publishing, and “Astronaut Arnie” was published through that.

Where did Arnie get his name?

I have a house in Vermont, and the guy who shovels the snow for me is named Arnie. He’s kind of bulky, with a big mustache and a very calm personality. He seemed to have a real peace within himself, and it inspired me. So the name and some elements of Arnie’s character come from a real person.

What’s the recommended age range for this book?

I’d say anywhere from 2 to 8 years old. I’ve enjoyed getting feedback from preschool classes. One school in Andover, Massachusetts, was read the book by their teacher, Mrs. Bagge. The students drew pictures of their favorite pages, and I sent them a video about the publishing process. It’s nice to have a little back-and-forth with my target audience.

How can we purchase your book?

“Astronaut Arnie” can be purchased at Book Revue, 313 New York Ave., Huntington, amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com.

What next for you?

My daughters have been lobbying for me to publish their second-favorite story, which is informally titled “The Princess and the White Carnation.” It’s about a princess who has no friends because her parents won’t let her leave the castle. But every morning, she wakes up to find a white carnation on the window sill. She saves them all, and then one day sneaks out with the flowers and gives them to children in the village. It should take about a year to make it into a book.

Dave Dircks is an author, illustrator and creative entrepreneur whose work has been featured in books, magazines, album art and advertising for over 30 years. In addition to commercial art, his paintings have been exhibited in New York City and his native Long Island. Visit his website at www.goldfinchpublishing.com/authors/dave-dircks.

American Bombshells
Event to benefit military veterans and their families

By Melissa Arnold

As our country pauses to mark many of its patriotic holidays this summer — Memorial Day, the anniversary of D-Day and Independence Day among them — most people will go about their business. They might head to work or to the beach or a barbecue.

But millions of veterans and those who love them live with daily reminders of their time in active duty. Some require ongoing medical care, while others need counseling to process all they’ve experienced.

On June 17, the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport will host a patriotic concert by the American Bombshells to honor members of the U.S. military, veterans and their families.

From left, the American Bombshells trio of Vanessa Simmons, Rayna Bertash and Crystal Cimaglia will present a patriotic-themed show in Northport on June 17. Jen Parente Photography

All proceeds from the event will benefit the Unified Behavioral Health Center for Military Veterans and Their Families (UBHC), a first-of-its-kind collaborative effort co-operated by Northwell Health and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VA) in Northport.

“What we’re offering [at UBHC] is a novel way to approach treatment for veteran families,” said Mayer Bellehsen, a psychologist who’s directed the center since its opening in 2012. “We provide an outpatient clinic for veterans, as well as therapy, medication management and educational resources for their families and caregivers.”

Bellehsen also noted that the families of service members make their own sacrifices, both during their time of service and afterward, and that their well-being should also be addressed.

Huntington native Ali Reeder founded the American Bombshells Patriotic Services organization in 2011 as her own way of giving back to our troops. There are now 21 American Bombshells nationwide who perform in trios all over the world. Reeder described the group as a modern twist on the Andrews Sisters.

“I had a lot of relatives who served, so I’ve always felt very strongly about supporting our troops and their families,” said Reeder, a graduate of the American Musical and Dramatic Academy.

The trio performing at the Engeman includes Long Island natives Rayna Bertash of Centerport and Crystal Cimaglia from Deer Park, along with Vanessa Simmons from California. The 90-minute performance will take you on a musical journey through the decades, including “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” “One Fine Day” and “New York, New York.” From patriotic favorites to swing tunes and country hits, there’s a little something for everyone.

As “ambassadors of American gratitude,” the American Bombshells are more than just entertainers. They also serve as companions and listening ears during their visits to military bases and hospitals. It’s not uncommon for a soldier to confide in one of the women, or to hold her hand while getting stitched up.

Reeder, whose husband is a Marine, knows firsthand how military life impacts families.

“It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, and we’ll never fully understand what a soldier goes through,” she said. “Being a caregiver for someone [in the service] has given me a deeper appreciation for how challenging the transition out of the military can be for our veterans.”

To help facilitate that transition, the Bombshells partner with organizations such as Boots in Suits, which provides gently-used work clothing to vets in need, and Alpha K-9, which pairs vets with service dogs.

Kevin J. O’Neill, co-owner of the Engeman Theater, is thrilled for the opportunity to support and honor local military families.

“When we opened the theater, I also wanted to support other causes in order to honor my brother-in-law,” said O’Neill, who has owned the theater with Richard T. Dolce for 13 years.

O’Neill’s brother-in-law, John W. Engeman, served in the U.S. Army for 28 years. He was killed in Iraq in 2006 while assisting the Iraqi people in establishing their own security forces.

Since then, the Engeman has raised more than $1.3 million for various charitable and community organizations. O’Neill saw the American Bombshells perform at another event and was eager to have them come to Northport.

“The families of our military have their own struggles, and it’s important for them to be acknowledged and cared for,” O’Neill said. “Northwell has been a great supporter of what we do for many years, and this is an expansion of that relationship.”

The American Bombshells benefit performance will be held at the John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport on Monday, June 17 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $75 and all proceeds will benefit the UBHC at Northwell Health. To purchase tickets, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com. If you cannot attend but wish to make a donation, visit http://give.northwell.edu/Engeman.

'Stony Brook Harbor' by Leo Mancini-Hresko

By Melissa Arnold

From as far back as the Middle Ages to the 19th century, the standard setting for art education and professional work was the atelier. At an atelier — which means “workshop” in French — a master artist would work in a studio setting alongside his students, rather than simply telling them what to do. The result was a collaborative community built on shared expertise and creativity.

In the 1940s, art classrooms built on a lecture-based dynamic became popular and the era of ateliers faded into history. But today, more artists are returning to the roots of their craft by starting and joining ateliers.

‘Silence,’ bronze with warm silver patina, by Gwen Marcus

Here on Long Island, Kevin McEvoy is the artist-director of The Atelier at Flowerfield in St. James. The space is home to an art studio, a 2,000-square-foot exhibition space titled Atelier Hall and even a developing library of fine art books.

Beginning this week and continuing throughout the summer, Atelier Hall will display its annual Masterworks collection, an exhibit showcasing the works of nine gifted artists from around the world.

“The Masterworks exhibit is the crystallization of dreams I’ve had for more than a decade to take our Long Island community, which has so much momentum, and marry it to the international art community, to put them all in the same room and celebrate the work they do,” said McEvoy in a recent interview. 

The journey to opening an atelier was a long one for the 38-year-old artist, who has traveled the world to hone his artistic talents. A first-generation American, he spent time as a boy living in Ireland, where his father was raised. After studying studio art at Stony Brook University, he headed to Santiago, Chile, and Florence, Italy, where he joined the prestigious Charles H. Cecil Studios.

The time abroad allowed McEvoy to cross paths with a diverse group of artists from around the world, nestled in a community where he continued to learn and grow.

By the time he returned to the States, McEvoy was married with young children and his career was taking off. But he found himself aching for something more — a social and professional circle like the one he left overseas. He began to teach at different places on Long Island in hopes of making new connections, and the rest is history.

“As soon as I plugged into teaching, this community was born and it was such a breath of fresh air,” McEvoy recalled. “Many of my students were very serious painters, and to share ideas and fan those latent gifts into flame meant so much to me. I knew then that I wanted to start an atelier.”

‘Quarter Rest’ by Wendy Jensen

The Atelier at Flowerfield officially opened in the spring of 2016. As his classes grew, McEvoy knew he needed help. He began to reach out to friends in different parts of the country and overseas, offering to put them up while they taught workshops at his studio.

“In the past, there were all of these artists I knew, but couldn’t work with because of a lack of infrastructure. And now they were able to come in regularly to stay,” McEvoy said.

The Atelier now boasts more than 120 artists who come to lecture, create and learn. Among them is Leo Mancini-Hresko, who regularly makes trips from his home near Boston to give workshops on oil painting and materials. 

Mancini-Hresko is a graduate and former principal instructor of The Florence Academy of Art whose paintings of New England and his travels abroad have appeared in exhibits across the globe. He and McEvoy got to know each other while living in Florence. 

“Many of us [who met in Florence] were not really art teachers. We’re professional artists with careers who happen to teach occasionally, and I think that’s part of the attraction, to learn from someone who considers themselves an artist first,” Mancini-Hresko said. 

‘Codman Barn’ by Leo Mancini-Hresko

Lana Ballot of Lake Grove continues to find a wealth of inspiration in Long Island’s natural scenery. She grew up in a small town in Russia where an art education wasn’t easily accessible. She studied foreign languages instead, and when she arrived in the U.S. in 1994, pursued a degree in studio art at Stony Brook University.

Ballot worked in web design for more than 15 years, but the desire to paint never faded. She eventually began freelance work, then full-time painting and teaching. Today, she teaches an ongoing pastel class at The Atelier. “It’s really like a family here,” she said of The Atelier. 

“Kevin says a lot that he wants to create a community, and that’s what is happening. It’s not just us coming in, teaching a class and going home. We interact, and as working artists we are connecting to one another and continuously learning.”

Masterworks 2019 will feature 31 two-dimensional works, including still lifes, landscapes, interiors, figures and portraits painted predominantly in oil, as well as charcoal and pastel. The show also boasts a collection of sculpture pieces by notable local artist Gwen Marcus, who will present several full life bronze cast figurative pieces. McEvoy will display his own bronze sculpture of his grandfather, Bill McEvoy. The inclusion of life-size sculpture in the Masterworks exhibition also highlights the introduction of The Atelier’s first sculpture program set to begin this summer.

Participating artists:

• Lana Ballot

• James Beihl

• Megan Euell

• Bill Graf 

• Wendy Jensen

• Leo Mancini-Hresko 

• Gwen Marcus

• Kevin McEvoy

• David Shevlino

The Atelier at Flowerfield, located at 2 Flowerfield, Suite 15, St. James will present Masterworks 2019 from May 16 through Aug. 30. The gallery is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and admission is free. Join the artists for an opening reception on Thursday, May 16 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Enjoy live demonstrations by Atelier instructors and fellows during the event. Prosecco and hors d’oeuvres will be served. For more information, call 631-250-9009 or visit www.atelierflowerfield.org. 

All images courtesy of The Atelier at Flowerfield

Lauren Auerbach’s ‘Keeta Kangaroo’ teaches kindness in rhyme
Above, author Lauren Auerbach and Leg. Tom Muratore

Reviewed by Melissa Arnold

 

For nearly 10 years, Lauren Auerbach of Port Jefferson has been hard at work as a legislative aide for Suffolk County Legislator Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma). She’s always dreamed of writing her own children’s book; however, and after two decades of nurturing the idea, she’s proud to share her first story with the world. “Keeta Kangaroo Learns a Lesson (or Two)” follows young Keeta, who has just learned how to rhyme, as she shows off her new skill with the animals in her neighborhood. But Keeta quickly discovers that using the wrong words can be hurtful to others.

Auerbach’s book is a sweet and funny tale of making mistakes, saying you’re sorry and learning to be kind.

Tell me a bit about your background. Have you always been a writer?

I went about my education the nontraditional way. I had an associate’s degree from Suffolk County Community College, then married young and had children. I went back to school later to get my bachelor’s degree in business administration and marketing from the New York Institute of Technology. I always had an interest in advertising. I was a stay-at-home mom for the better part of 20 years, until my children were grown and went off to college. Since 2010, I’ve been working in marketing for Legislator Tom Muratore, planning his events and writing press releases.

How did this book come about?

I’ve always had a dream of having a book published, and writing was always my strong point in my school years. Believe it or not, I actually wrote “Keeta Kangaroo” about 25 years ago. When I was a stay-at-home mom, I did take a few noncredit courses in children’s literature writing. That was always interesting to me. I learned some really valuable information not only about writing, but how to submit a story for publication. 

At that time, it was common to print out hard copies and send them to publishers with cover letters, so that was what I did. I got some lovely rejection letters, and as life got busy I tucked the book away. A little over a year ago, I was cleaning out some old files and found a copy of the book, which sparked my interest again. Since we’re in the age of self-publishing now, I figured I would give it another shot.

Who is the illustrator for the book? How did you connect?

Erin Bonner is my adult niece and an amazing illustrator. She has a background in photography and teaches art at a local library. I told her about the book and she loved the idea of doing the illustrations. 

What drew you to children’s literature as opposed to other kinds of writing?

To be honest, I would love to write the Great American Novel, but I know that involves a lot of research and time — you have to have the resolve for it, and I’ve never been in a place in my life where I’ve had the time to devote to a project of that size. Beyond that, I’ve just always loved children, and I felt drawn to writing a children’s book. We’ll see what the future holds after my retirement.

Was there any particular reason you chose to make the main character a kangaroo?

The name Keeta Kangaroo rolled off my tongue, and it was a simple decision after that. I wanted to choose animals for the book that kids would find interesting, and I think kangaroos are one of them.

What is the target age for this book?

Ideally, it would be best for children ages 4 to 7. We all know that there’s a lot of negativity out there. In this internet age, it’s all too easy for kids to learn to be unkind and treat one another poorly. It’s important to show them that using kind words goes a long way. Sometimes people can be mean without even realizing it, and we have to think hard about what we say before we say it. All of those messages are wrapped up in a sweet story. 

What has the experience been like for you now that the book is published?

It’s pretty awesome. It’s one thing to have an idea and a vision in your head, but to hold the tangible evidence of that and see your name on it is an incredible feeling. I may never get rich because of this book, but the sense of accomplishment goes so much deeper than any monetary gain could. 

I haven’t had as much time to market the book as I would like, but I have been going around to some of the local elementary schools and reading in classrooms. The feedback I’m getting from the children is very positive because the overall message is about kindness. They really seem to be responding to its message, and in this age of anti-bullying efforts the timing really couldn’t be better. It’s been a lot of fun to share with people, and accomplishing a goal I dreamed up a long time ago.

“Keeta Kangaroo Learns a Lesson (or Two)” is available in paperback and digital formats at Amazon.com. To order a copy from the author directly or to schedule a classroom or library reading, send an email to auerbach.lauren@gmail.com.

By Melissa Arnold

Art exhibits draw crowds for a host of reasons, often as varied as the people who attend them. For some, it’s the work of a particular artist they enjoy, while for others it may be an intriguing theme or interesting medium.

This month, the Setauket Artists have put together a collection that not only shows off local talent, but does so in a space that is attractive all on its own — the Deepwells Mansion in St. James.

The Setauket Artists hold an annual fall exhibit at the Setauket Neighborhood House, an event that’s become an important part of the area’s culture. “As the exhibit and the number of visitors grew over the years, we found the need to extend our viewing time. We were delighted when the opportunity came along to have an additional show,” said Irene Ruddock, president of the Setauket Artists in a recent interview.

“There will be close to 100 works of art on display including oil, watercolor and pastel paintings, as well as soft-ground etchings, collage and hand-painted photographs and all of them are for sale,” she added. 

Participating artists include Ross Barbera, Eleanor Berger, Catherine Bezas, Joan Bloom, Renee Caine, Al Candia, Gail L. Chase, Anthony Davis, Bart Deceglie, Julie Doczi, Jeanette Dick, Marge Governale, William Graf, Peter Hahn, Melissa Imossi, Laurence Johnston, Anne Katz, Deborah Katz, Flo Kemp, Karen Kemp, Michael R. Kutzing, Joanne Liff, Celeste Mauro, Jane McGraw Teubner, Terry McManus, Eleanor Meier, Fred Mendelsohn, Muriel Musara, Iacopo Pasquinelli, Paula Pelletier, Demerise Perricone, Denis Ponsot, Joan Rockwell, Robert Roehrig, Irene Ruddock, Oscar Santiago, Carol Link Scinta, Sungsook Setton, Barbara Jeanne Siegel, Patricia Solan, Angela Stratton, Mac Titmus, Marlene Weinstein and Patricia Yantz.

“The Setauket Artists have been in existence for 38 years . . . many of their paintings reflect the beauty of Long Island — the rivers, lakes, ocean, and bays that make this island so unique,” said Ruddock. “When curating the show, I look for paintings that touch the soul and bring the beauty of nature or a magical moment to the viewer. Every painting in the exhibit reflects our group’s motto, ‘Art is for a lifetime.’”

 Setauket Artist member Robert Roehrig agreed. “Although there is no particular theme to the exhibition, the Setauket Artists always display many beautiful scenes of our local Long Island landscape,” he said.

“The Deepwells Farm Historical Society is pleased to welcome the Setauket Artists to Deepwells Mansion for their first spring art show,” Denise Davis, a board member for the society, said. “The mansion, which is part of the Suffolk County Parks, was built in 1845 in the 16th century Greek-Revival architecture   for Joel Smith, a descendant of Smithtown’s founder Richard ‘Bull’ Smith. Deepwells is the perfect venue for displaying and sharing with the community the many local scenes of beautiful Long Island,” she added.

The community is invited to an opening reception on May 4 from 1 to 4 p.m. Refreshments and appetizers prepared by the artists will be served.

The exhibit will also include a small boutique gift shop with handmade wares from the Setauket Artists featuring jewelry, cards, scarves and small paintings. The group will continue its tradition of raffling off three different paintings on May 26, the exhibit’s last day. Visitors can enter the raffle throughout the exhibit’s run and do not need to be present to win.  Robert Roehrig, vice president of Setauket Artists, is donating his oil painting titled “Still Afloat,” and Anne Katz and Paula Pelletier will each donate a watercolor painting.

“It’s an exciting new venue for us,” said Setauket Artist member Joan Rockwell. “There will be something for everyone and the show will be open for Mother’s Day weekend too!  We’ll serve refreshments and have a flower for all those special Moms.”

Sponsored by Bryant Funeral Home, the Setauket Artists Spring Exhibit will be on view from May 4 through May 26 at the Deepwells Mansion, 2 Taylor Lane, St. James. The mansion is open Wednesdays through Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, visit www.setauketartists.com. Private group or single showings can be arranged by appointment: call 631-365-1312 or email peace2429@optonline.net.

Stan Brodsky in his studio. Photo by Peter Scheer

By Melissa Arnold

For Stan Brodsky, painting was so much more than just a skill or even a career. It was a language, a love affair, a truly sensual experience. The artist shared those feelings openly with students over the course of a renowned teaching career that spanned more than 50 years. 

Several months ago, the Art League of Long Island in Dix Hills began to prepare Stan Brodsky and Friends, a springtime exhibit celebrating Brodsky’s work along with nearly 30 of his dearest friends, many of whom were former students and mentees.

‘Woman in a Car,’ oil/acrylic on canvas by Doug Reina

On March 30, just two weeks before the exhibit’s scheduled opening, Stan Brodsky passed away at the age of 94. He had continued to work and teach until the final weeks of his life, just as he wanted it. Brodsky’s students noted that the World War II veteran tried to retire a few years ago, but he couldn’t stand being away from doing what he loved. 

The Art League is moving forward with the show as planned, with the exhibit running from April 13 to 28. A reception on April 14 at 3:30 p.m. will allow the artists and those who loved Brodsky to honor his life and legacy.

Participating artists include Ennid Berger, Susan Bird, Susan Canin, Denise DiGiovanna, Simon Fenster, Stuart Friedman, Peter Galasso, Lenore Ann Hanson, Ginger Balizer-Hendler, Caroline Isacsson, Vincent Joseph, Deborah Katz, Marceil Kazickas, Denise Kramer, Barbara Miller, Catherine Morris, Pamela Long Nolan, Dianne Parker, Alicia R. Peterson, Doug Reina, Fran Roberts, Susan M. Rostan, Ellen Hallie Schiff, Laura Powers-Swiggett, Janice Sztabnik, Lois Walker and Hiroko Yoshida.

Stan has touched so many lives, inspiring them to pursue their passions,” said Susan Peragallo, coordinator and curator of the Art League’s Jeanie Tengelsen Gallery. “The exhibit will be a chance for everyone to celebrate him — the 27 artists in the show are only a small segment of those who were influenced by him over the years.”

A master abstract expressionist, Brodsky studied photojournalism and fine art before receiving a doctorate in art education from Columbia University in 1959. Originally from Greenwich Village, he moved to Huntington in 1965. Most of his teaching years were spent at Long Island University’s C.W. Post Campus in Brookville, and a collection of his notes and sketches from 1951 to 2004 can be found at the Smithsonian Institution.

‘Superficial Information,’ oil on canvas by Marceil Kazickas

Brodsky’s relationship with the Art League began in the late ’90s when he became an instructor. The classes were small in the beginning, with just five students enrolled in 1994, but grew rapidly, and eventually people had to be turned away from lack of space. “It’s not so much that he was popular, but he was inspiring and generous in his critiques, and people really responded to that,” Peragallo said.

Peter Galasso of Setauket remembers that Brodsky could often be found in the same way over the years as students arrived for class — sitting at his desk, usually eating an egg sandwich, always poring over an art history text.

“He had a contagious passion, and was constantly reading and continuing to study,” said Galasso, who began studies under Brodsky 20 years ago, eventually becoming a friend and traveling companion. “He was always looking to travel somewhere new or different. He wanted to be inspired by the local color of a place.”

Susan Rostan of Woodbury remembers entering Brodsky’s classroom for the first time while pursuing a master’s in fine art. Brodsky arranged the students in a circle and asked each one to introduce themselves. When it was her turn, Rostan simply told him, “I’ve heard I’m either going to love you or hate you, but I’m cautiously optimistic.”

‘She Wears Her Heart on Her Sleeve …,’ mixed media by Susan Canin

Many years later, Rostan was sitting in a different class of Brodsky’s, this one at the Art League. But she was stunned by the striking realization that nothing had changed: He still wore the same striped sweaters and paint-splattered jeans. She painted a full-length portrait of him that day that will appear in the exhibit.

“He taught us as much about ourselves as he did about painting,” said Rostan, who is now working on a biography of Brodsky. “He was an unusual teacher in that he approached his students as equals and opened himself up to be vulnerable and form friendships with them, which allowed him to encourage them particularly well.”

Brodsky’s friendship and deep encouragement were beloved by so many of his students, said Doug Reina of Setauket. In fact, some of them continued to take his classes for decades just to spend more time with him.

“Stan had this ability to make you feel special. He was genuinely curious about you, and that means a lot,” Reina said. “In the old days before taking his classes, I would look at a scene and just try to copy it. But through him I learned to paint in a way that also expresses how I feel about the subject and the sensuousness of the paint itself. Stan painted with his own language and created something truly unique for the world.”

Stan Brodsky and Friends will be on view at the Art League of Long Island’s Jeanie Tengelsen Gallery, 107 E. Deer Park Road, Dix Hills. Admission is free. For more information, call 631-462-5400 or visit www.artleagueli.net

By Melissa Arnold

Almost four years ago, Michael Medico of Northport made his first foray into fiction writing with “The Sainted,” a spiritual thriller released in 2015. Back then, he talked with us about spending more than 40 years in marketing and advertising before his retirement.

It seems appropriate, then, that Medico’s latest book is a satirical take on today’s media and politics. The book, “Absolutely Positively Real Fake News: A Jaunty Romp Through the Deep State, Media Industrial Complex and the Progressive Mind,” is a series of fictitious news articles based on real people or events, with an outlandish twist.

The idea came about while Medico was dealing with writer’s block over the third book in “The Sainted” trilogy. He decided to set it aside for a while and experiment with something fresh and fun.

“I’ve always been a political junkie, and at some level consider myself a humorist,” said Medico in a recent interview. “I thought I would use my humorous take on things to write about the absurdities that have happened in recent times, and the way that they’re portrayed and talked about on TV, in the news, and especially online.”

Taking on the pseudonym Sir Telsunn Margraves, Medico weaves stories that focus on contemporary issues in politics, pop culture, sports and more.

Take, for example, comedian and political commentator Samantha Bee, who hosts the late night news satire show “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” on TBS. What would it be like if she interviewed the Clintons? Medico imagines the conversation in the book, including a moment when Hillary admits she sews her own signature pantsuits.

“With every piece of fake news we see, there is always some element of truth present,” Medico said. “That’s the most important element to these stories, and it’s what people are going to connect with and respond to.”

Readers who are willing to do a little of their own digging might be surprised to discover some of the zaniest details in the book are actually true. Did you know that former FBI director James Comey was briefly considered a sex symbol on Twitter? And did you hear that Comey once hid behind some curtains to avoid an awkward run-in with President Donald Trump? While they may sound unbelievable, these facts are the seeds of truth in one of Medico’s stories.

“I want people to think deeply about the news they’re consuming, I want them to ask questions, but just as importantly I want to make them laugh,” Medico said. “We have to be able to poke fun at things and find the humor in what’s going on.”

For those who can’t get enough of the fun, Sir Telsunn runs his own fake news blog, complete with rousing discussion in the comments section, at www.realfakenewsthebook.com.

“Absolutely Positively Real Fake News: A Jaunty Romp Through the Deep State, Media Industrial Complex and the Progressive Mind” is available at Book Revue, 313 New York Ave., Huntington, and through major online retailers including Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Medico will appear at Book Revue on April 4 at 7 p.m. for a reading from the book, Q&A session and meet and greet. For more information, call 631-271-1442. RSVPs are requested. Send an email to SirTelsunn@realfakenewsthebook.com.

‘Fall Day at Stony Brook Harbor’

By Melissa Arnold

Susan Trawick of Setauket devoted more than 20 years to helping Sachem East High School students develop their art skills. All the while, she continued to create her own artwork, primarily in watercolors and oil.

Following her retirement from teaching in 2008, Trawick sought to keep her art skills sharp and maybe even make some new friends. She joined several local art classes, including one taught by her neighbor Mary Jane van Zeijts, owner of Studio 268 on Main Street in Setauket.

‘West Meadow Gates’

Van Zeijts taught Trawick how to use a set of pastels she received from friends as a gift, and she immediately fell in love. “Pastels are definitely my new favorite medium to work with,” Trawick said in a recent interview. “The colors are so vibrant and intense.”

Van Zeijts was so impressed with Trawick’s skills that she invited her to create an art exhibit for the studio. That show, aptly titled Land and Sea Pastel Images, will open on March 24.

Trawick’s passion for art is hereditary, she said — her father loved to draw, and she picked up the hobby in early childhood. She married young and was a stay-at-home mother before attending Dowling College for a bachelor’s degree in fine art and Stony Brook University for a master’s in education. Without hesitation, she cites impressionists as her favorite artists, including Vincent van Gogh, Andrew Wyeth and Joseph Reboli.

While Trawick’s work has appeared throughout the area in various exhibits, this show is the first she’s done solo. It will be almost entirely comprised of pastel art, with one watercolor and one oil painting to give a taste of her other skills.

“Setauket is the best place for an artist to live — the landscapes are so beautiful,” Trawick said. “I love the water, the wetlands, the trees, even the little hills here on the North Shore that the South Shore doesn’t have.”

‘Hidden Stream’

Trawick explained that inspiration for a new piece will strike as she’s out driving or enjoying time outside, especially in the light of early morning or at sunset. When she sees something she wants to paint, she’ll take photos to preserve the memory for later. She also enjoys occasional plein air painting. 

Trawick will display more than 30 pieces of varied sizes at the show. Most pieces feature recognizable Long Island scenes, while others show off the beauty of Central Park, Yellowstone National Park and Higgins Beach in Maine, all with brilliant color.

“Susan is an incredibly strong, skilled and prolific artist,” van Zeijts said. “She has used and taught other mediums, but she is so expressive with pastels. It speaks of who she is. We can all relate to her work because a lot of it is local. You can see a picture of Maine and acknowledge it as beautiful, but her Long Island work will be recognizable and enjoyable for people from this area.”

Every piece at Trawick’s show is for sale, with paintings ranging from $50 to $850 and prints for less than $10. Twenty percent of the proceeds from the show will benefit Kent Animal Shelter, a no-kill nonprofit haven for dogs and cats in Calverton, where Trawick has served as a board member for 32 years. Her two dogs and “too many” cats at home are all rescues.

The shelter also offers low-cost and sometimes free spay/neuter services for more than 3,500 animals each year. This critical work helps address excessive breeding, overpopulation and animals left homeless.

“I’ve seen so much suffering of animals in my time doing work with the shelter, so I want to do anything I can to alleviate that suffering,” said Trawick.

Reached by phone, Pam Green, executive director of the shelter, said that Trawick is the quintessential animal lover. “Susan is so devoted and has done a lot of work with helping support our spay/neuter efforts in the area. She also provides a lot of advice for people that come across homeless or sick animals,” Green said.

Studio 268, located at 268 Main St., Setauket will present Land and Sea Pastel Images from March 24 to April 14. The studio is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m.

Join the artist for an opening reception on March 24 from 2 to 4 p.m. Refreshments will be served. For more information, call 631-220-4529.

Katherine McLaughlin and Sean Yves Lessard in a scene from the show. Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

By Melissa Arnold

I never thought I’d cheer for a murderer. Nor did I ever imagine laughing so much at a show about murder. There’s a first time for everything, I guess.

Directed by Trey Compton with musical direction by James Olmstead, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” has a deceptively simple title, one that probably makes you think of a classic, suspenseful whodunit. What you get instead is a fast-paced, absurdly funny comedy that will keep you laughing from start to finish.

Based on the 1907 Roy Horniman novel “Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal,” the Tony Award-winning musical, with book by Robert L. Freedman and music by Steven Lutvak, ran on Broadway from 2013 to 2016.

Danney Gardner in a scene from the show. Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

As the show begins, we find ourselves looking in on a young man feverishly writing his memoirs from a London jail cell, seeking to preserve his story if he should face execution the next day. That man, Montague “Monty” Navarro, is the newly minted Earl of Highhurst, and his rise to nobility wasn’t exactly noble. Two years earlier, while grieving his mother’s death in 1907, an impoverished Monty learned that she was related to the powerful, aristocratic D’Ysquith family. The D’Ysquiths, however, disowned her when she chose to marry a commoner. Despite this, Monty was the ninth descendant in line to become the earl.

Monty hoped his newfound lineage would impress Sibella Hallward, the posh and sultry woman he loves, but she ultimately abandoned him to marry a wealthy man. With no one else to turn to, he attempted to make inroads with his new relatives, and in the process had a sinister thought: What if he killed the D’Ysquiths? What if he could become the earl? The show follows Monty through flashbacks of the past two years as he eliminates his cousins in a variety of zany and unexpected ways.

Wojcik/Seay Casting consistently assembles stellar casts for the Engeman’s shows, and this one is no exception, featuring a host of Broadway and national theater vets. Sean Yves Lessard plays Monty, and he is earnest, polished and entirely believable. You’ll empathize with his poverty and join him on an emotional roller coaster as he sneakily offs the D’Ysquiths. Beyond that, Lessard’s smooth, controlled vocals are a real treat, especially in the waltzing “Poison in My Pocket” and steamy “Sibella.”

What makes “Gentleman’s Guide” stand out is that eight of the D’Ysquith cousins are played by the same actor, Danny Gardner. He makes the transition from young to old, gay to straight and even male to female characters look entirely effortless. Each D’Ysquith has his or her unique quirks, and Gardner is so astoundingly versatile that you almost won’t believe it’s the same person. He also deserves accolades for impossibly fast costume changes and impressive tap dancing.

A torrid love triangle sits at the heart of Monty’s escapades. Despite her marriage to a wealthy man, Sibella (Kate Loprest) still comes knocking, especially as Monty ascends the line of succession. At the same time, Monty quickly finds himself falling for his distant cousin Phoebe D’Ysquith (Katherine McLaughlin), a good-hearted and pious lady that just wants to love and be loved.

Loprest makes the self-absorbed Sibella almost lovable with charming wit and confidence. She’s also a delight to listen to, a crystal clear soprano that’s strong without being overpowering. McLaughlin’s Phoebe is demure and sincere, a perfect foil to Sibella. She shines in songs like “Inside Out,” and the trio’s performance in “I’ve Decided to Marry You” is one of the show’s highlights.

Scene and props designer Nate Bertone deserves particular mention for his creative work on the detailed, Edwardian set of “Gentleman’s Guide.” To help audience members keep track of the D’Ysquiths, the stage is framed with massive portraits of Gardner in his various incarnations. Spotlights and laser X’s on those portraits will alert you to who’s still kicking and who’s been taken out. The effect is a lot of fun and adds to the show’s overall silliness.

The bottom line: “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” is hilarious from the first line, and so enjoyable that I’d love to see it again. The show isn’t gory, but there’s plenty of innuendo to go around, and there are occasional loud noises and use of light fog throughout.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” through April 28. Runtime is approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes with one 15-minute intermission. Tickets range from $73 to $78 with free valet parking. For more information or to order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

'Matinee' by AM DeBrincat, oil and acrylic paint and transfer print on canvas

By Melissa Arnold

In the coming weeks, Mother Nature will show us both sides of her personality as the cold darkness of winter melts into colorful spring. It’s a time of opposites, with life and death at the center of it all.

The Smithtown Township Arts Council’s Mills Pond Gallery in St. James is reflecting on these themes with its newest fine art exhibition, In the Garden of Eden: Artist Reflections, on display now through April 14.

‘Mirror’ by Yvonne Katz

“Each artist I selected helped tell a story for me — the origin of choice, good and evil, light and darkness, the origin of creation,” said guest curator Melissa Masci, who developed the concept for the exhibit. “The premise of this show is that there’s balance to every aspect of life, in the experiences we have and the decisions we make that define us. There’s a duality at play — you can create something incredibly light and beautiful from the darkest experiences.”

It is the first time that STAC director Allison Cruz has invited a guest curator to the gallery, and while she admits it wasn’t easy to hand over the reins, she knew Masci’s vision had to be shared.

Masci, a Seaford resident, is a graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan. Her career has led her from designing women’s apparel and store window displays to teaching art classes for children. Cruz invited her to teach at the St. James gallery, and they’ve built a fierce friendship since.

“Melissa visited the gallery just by chance about seven years ago, and we struck up a conversation,” Cruz recalled in a recent interview. “She fell in love with the space — the light and the spirit of it. And she’s such a genuine and creative person.”

The unique exhibit, which fills four gallery rooms and the center hall gallery on the first floor of the historic 1838 Greek Revival mansion, will feature the works of eight artists using a variety of mediums and styles, including oil, acrylic, mixed media and sculpture.

All of the artists are contemporary, and the majority are local to Long Island. Masci aimed to choose artists from a mix of backgrounds and experiences to expose visitors to something new, she said.

‘Ode to Giuseppe Sanmartino’ by Nicholas Frizalone

Brooklyn-based painter AM DeBrincat creates layered works on canvas, blending painting, digital photography and even printmaking for a unique style. She uses images pulled from online searches and Xerox transferring for her pieces, which explore how we create a sense of self in the digital age. “I have always felt compelled to make art, ever since I was young. I’m not sure why, but it’s always been such a strong impulse and brought me joy, so I don’t over analyze it – I just go with it,” she said.

Nicholas Frizalone of Lake Grove attended Stony Brook University and Long Island University before becoming an art educator and creator. He paints, draws and creates prints that explore the implication of language in art. “Through the use of painting, drawing, and printmaking, I wish to investigate the implications of language in art, and communicate in a way words will never be able to accomplish,” he said.

Jennifer Hannaford is more than just an artist ‒ the Port Jefferson resident is also a forensic scientist. To get in touch with her creative spirit, Hannaford began to create artistic mug shots using her fingerprints. Working primarily in oils, she enjoys exploring themes that include life, ascension and balance.

Ashley Johnson of Buffalo works with ceramics, collage and photography but expresses her creativity most through stippled ink drawings and large-scale ink paintings. “Creating art is a therapeutic way for me to work through my emotions … to dig deep and explore my trauma, joy, confusion, anger, love, and anything else I need to release,” she said.

Smithtown artist Yvonne Katz believes art is the “elixir that allows us to fluidly slip and break the threshold of all boundaries.” She loves working with oil and bronze because there is a maneuverable interaction with these mediums, as if the materials collaborate in the process of realizing the results.

‘Flower Puzzle’ by Neta Leigh

Neta Leigh is a surreal-impressionist photographer from Locust Valley. Inspired by the sights and locales that surround her daily life, Leigh is most drawn to photograph in natural light during times of fog, clouds, snow or rain. She also enjoys photographing fruit and flowers in her dining room before and after destruction.

Peter Bragino of Copiague is a multidiscipline, mixed-media artist, designer, treasure hunter and soul searcher. “In the same way we build layers in life to become who we are as human beings I allow my creations to take on the same life, the same layering, the same history. This process naturally led me to a mixed-media workflow where any medium is a viable medium to complete the formation of the life that the creation would like to take,” he said. Bragino will be collaborating with artist Kevin Corcoran for this exhibit.

“I’m always looking for something unique to bring into the gallery – not just landscapes or realism or abstracts all the time,” said Cruz. In regards to the exhibit, “I had only seen a few of the pieces initially. But the themes in it are so evident, strong and beautiful. It’s unlike anything else in this area, and I think people will really enjoy the experience.”

The community is invited to an opening reception on March 16 at 5:30 p.m.

The Mills Pond Gallery is located at 660 Route 25A, St. James. Hours are Wednesday through Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. Admission is free. Visit www.millspondgallery.org or call 631-862-6575 for more information.