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Anita Simmons

By Melissa Arnold

The vast majority of artists will say they are influenced by the work of someone else. Whether it’s a contemporary from their own time or someone from long ago, artists blossom from appreciating and studying others.

This sentiment is held dear by members of the Smithtown Artists Group (SAG), a small network of local artists who gather for creativity and camaraderie alike.

Their friendship began at the main branch of the Smithtown Library, where artists of all backgrounds and skill levels have gathered on Tuesday afternoons to paint, some of them for decades.

“When my kids were in school I ran a lot of arts and crafts programs, and then in their later teens I took a watercolor class,” said Judy Contrino of Stony Brook, who began painting at the library 20 years ago. “Joining the library group was a wonderful experience because there were so many different mediums being used by the people there, and some of them were quite accomplished. I was a self-taught artist. And it’s wonderful to have newcomers improve and show them how they’ve grown. No one is asking you to be Rembrandt — it’s just a place to come, relax and learn from those around you.”

A few years ago, some of the library artists expressed a desire to broaden their horizons and pursue exhibitions. Roughly a dozen people came together to form what is now the Smithtown Artists Group.

With the help of a new website to showcase some of their work online, the group was able to hold exhibits in libraries around Long Island, including Harborfields, Sachem, Kings Park and East Northport. After a long hiatus during the pandemic, they are thrilled to share their work again. Their newest exhibit, A Potpourri of Art, will be on display this spring at the Port Jefferson Village Center.

Featuring more than 80 pieces from 8 artists, the exhibit will feature works done in watercolor, acrylic, oil, colored pencil and more. Each artist has a unique flair and favorite subjects, making it a great fit for art enthusiasts of all kinds.

Carol Kelly of Kings Park spent many years simply appreciating the work of others before trying her own hand at painting. “It wasn’t until I was around 45 that I started learning to paint. I would go to art exhibits and often say, ‘Wouldn’t it be marvelous to be able to create beautiful works of art for other people to enjoy?” she recalled. 

“I started taking watercolor classes, and then some time later saw a listing in my library’s newsletter about the group meeting in Smithtown. I’ve been there for 13 years and enjoy the process of critiquing and learning from one another.”  

Kelly enjoys painting landscapes and scenes from her garden, but occasionally branches out into other subjects, as with a painting of a bird she titled “Looking for Lunch.”

Lucia Alberti of Smithtown has spent the past 10 years painting at the library and was excited to participate in exhibitions with longtime friends in the group. Alberti said that the majority of her work is done in acrylics with a focus on imaginative realism.

“We have a lot of variety in our experiences and what we enjoy doing as artists. Some people teach art and have exhibited before, while others simply enjoy art and being creative,” she said. “We are friends, and we admire one another, which adds another layer of joy to our painting. Getting to do this exhibit together is a very special opportunity.”

The exhibit is a welcome source of joy for the community, too.

“We’re happy to be doing shows again — this is our second exhibit since the pandemic,” said Sue Orifici, head of graphic, archival and special projects at the Port Jefferson Village Center. “There’s a nice mix of art to enjoy in this show and we hope people will stop by and visit.”

Participating artists include Lucia Alberti, Cheryl Cass-Zampiva, Carol Ceraso, Judy Contrino, Ruth Johnson, Carol Kelly, Anita Simmons and Joanie Whalen.

A Potpourri of Art will be on display on the second floor of the Port Jefferson Village Center, 101 E. Broadway, Port Jefferson from March 1 to April 30. Viewing hours are 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. For more information about the exhibit, call the Village Center at 631-802-2160. To learn more about the Smithtown Artists Group, visit http://sagartists.wixsite.com/sagartists.