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Art

Port Jeff village trustee candidate’s creative approach to decision-making

Gerard Gang is running for Port Jefferson village trustee. Photo by Joe Iasso

By Raymond Janis

This week, TBR News Media sat down with Gerard Gang, candidate in the upcoming Village of Port Jefferson trustee elections June 21. In our interview, Gang discussed his professional background in packaging, his plans to improve senior services, cultural programs in the village, and more. 

What is your background and why would you like to be involved in local government?

First, I want to say that I am honored to be introduced to the public. For those who don’t know me, I live in Port Jefferson and have been here for 32 years. My wife, Patty, and I have raised two children in the school district. She was a teacher’s assistant in the elementary school and is the hearts of many children no matter where we go.

Professionally, I come from a background in fragrance and cosmetic packaging as a design director. I was responsible for both the marketing and the creative services. Combined with my other creative professional skills, this will be excellent experience and an asset to the role of trustee. 

I want to be a representative of the residents. I’m retired and have the time to be involved in our wonderful village and to create ways of communicating better between the residents and the village. I was a member of the economic development council that founded the farmers market, and I was also a member of the [village] Beautification Committee. I am presently on the Six Acre Park Committee, helping to conceptualize the arboretum and walking park in Upper Port. As residents come to know me, they will learn that I am always willing to listen and make the necessary changes within myself for those whom I may represent. 

I also believe that we need to preserve our history, to strengthen our relationships and opportunities, and to optimize our facilities and programs. We need to create new experiences, foster new ideas and increase our revenue to prevent further financial hardship on the taxpayer, who is already struggling with inflation and other economic restraints caused by the pandemic.

A trustee must wear many hats and accept the challenges that no doubt will arise. I am ready, willing and excited to do just that. 

Can you describe your experience working with the Six Acre Park Committee?

I have been on the committee since April. Some of my background is in landscaping. As a child, I worked on a farm for years and all the way through college. My interest was to develop a beautiful arboretum. There’s such a need in Upper Port to establish something beautiful, something to enjoy. 

We have the condos up there and the new apartments being established. Those people need to have a place where they can walk, meditate and just relax. I think it’s so important for the hospital workers up there. On a stressful day, it would be nice to take 10 minutes to take a stroll through something that’s beautiful, something that’s natural. 

How is your professional experience applicable to the work of a trustee?

My experience in packaging — as well as in landscape design, floral design and interior design — has taught me how to focus. 

In package design, especially in the studio where I worked, we worked directly with the printer, so we were actually on board when a color was mixed. My eye is extremely sensitive. People will say, “That’s black,” when it’s actually a blue-black, or it has a little bit of a red cast to it. My keen eye will help to take this beautiful village and move it into the future. 

A design put together by Gang during his time as a design director of fragrance and cosmetic packaging. Photo courtesy of Gang

It is important to me to hold onto the village’s historic character. I believe in the restoration of Upper Port and I hope to be working with the Architectural Review Committee to update design guidelines to preserve the village’s charm, the integrity of the materials used and the colors selected.  

In your opinion, what are the most critical issues facing the village?

The erosion of the bluff and the bond issue is a pretty big topic. I believe in the initial Phase I to establish the lower wall so that we can still have access to the beach. Until all of the information is presented about the upper wall — the drainage and whether to save the club — I will await making any decision until all facts are gathered and until we know what funding is available. 

The other issue facing the village is the decline in student enrollment within our school district. The well-being of our children is very important to me. As a trustee, I will work to make sure that an ample population of students is maintained so that the diverse assortment of programs and activities are available to them. I will foster ideas on the possibility of rezoning the school district to include all of Port Jefferson. In rezoning, we would increase the diversity of our students and, in turn, our state aid while hopefully keeping our school taxes balanced. For many, rezoning would lower their school taxes while enriching our programs and also provide a full-day pre-K program. 

Another critical issue is increasing village revenue to offset our increases in taxes. I have the knowledge to build upon the revenue in our village by staying within our budget allowances. Through new programs at the Village Center, the country club, the beach and within our village, we have the ability to generate profits that can stabilize our taxes while also providing quality programs for all ages. 

I do support the restoration of Upper Port. It needs to happen and it would be a benefit for all of us as that’s the gateway into our village. I would work with the Architectural Review Committee and with the planning committee to do that. 

What are your thoughts on the availability of cultural programs in the village and is there room for expansion?

There is definitely room for expansion. We have a lot of cultural aspects in the village and one of my platforms is to optimize the Village Center to create more programs and revenue. Through the years, I have been a floral designer, a coordinator of fundraisers, a curator of art exhibits and local art groups. I have the knowledge and the ability to organize events and build upon the revenue of the venue. 

Gerard Gang with a Port Jefferson resident discussing his plans for a council on aging. Photo by Joe Iasso

One of my ideas is to develop new programs at the Village Center. One of them would be to create an opportunity for the disabled and the autistic children to express themselves and communicate through art. My wife worked in the school as a teaching assistant and I know that many of these children express themselves and communicate better through art. I would like to encourage the public to host special events through dinners and senior programs there.

I would also like to create a council for the aging committee. Through educational programs, special events and weekly gatherings, we as a community can address and assist our seniors in their needs. There are so many older people in our village that have been the founders of the village, that have been the strength of the village. It would be wonderful for them to be able to live out their full lives in the village. 

What are some ways in which the Village Center can be upgraded?

The Village Center is a wonderful building. There are so many opportunities there and it’s wonderful to see that two of the class reunions for the high school are now going to be in the Village Center. It’s great to see that it’s beginning to be used for different reasons. All it takes is one person to come in and say, “Wow, this can be a great environment.” 

I have actually done a wedding there. Once you are on the second and third floors, it’s a wonderful environment. It’s beautiful and the view out the window is incredible. With the proper resources and event planners, with flowers and catering, it can be an even more beautiful venue. 

I would like to encourage brides to come in and take a look at the place. If you are having a special event, a party or a family reunion, the opportunity is there. I would like to make some small changes downstairs so that as you walk in, it has that appeal that would make you want to host a special occasion there. 

Gerard and his wife, Patricia, near the Brookhaven Marina and Port Jefferson-Bridgeport Ferry Terminal, above. Photo by Joe Iasso

How can residents play a more active role in decision-making?

As I went door to door, I spoke to so many people about their concerns. I listened to their stories and everything else. What I want to express to so many of the people is that I ask the residents to reach out, to become more active, to communicate and to show up to our village meetings.

The trustees are here to listen to you, so communicate with them. Voice your opinions because your concerns are my concerns and they should be the trustees’ concerns. As I like to say, one positive thought creates one positive word and results in a positive action. As much as you can communicate, it just opens up doors for things to change.

There are so many positive things to look at, to enjoy and to talk about. We should build upon the positives of the village, not just upon the negatives. — Gerard Gang

Is there anything else that you would like to say to our readers?

I actually hope to continue to meet more people. I so enjoy campaigning, meeting so many new people, talking to young people, older people. It was wonderful to come upon the seniors of our village and to listen to their stories. It was just so nice to interact with them because they need to talk and they want to socialize. 

There are so many positive things to look at, to enjoy and to talk about. We should build upon the positives of the village, not just upon the negatives. Like I said before, you take a positive word and it becomes an idea and then it turns into a positive action. 

I hope to become a trustee. It’s in my blood now — the passion that I have to help people and to help the village. 

Rocky Point HS student Tessa Cunningham stands proudly next to her artwork. Photo from RPSD

Rocky Point High School senior Tessa Cunningham received an award of honorable mention for her work in Advanced Visions 17, the annual art show at LIU Post that features Advanced Placement high school art students.

The show tasked artists of excellence to imagine “What the World Needs Now….” The promotion for the show stated that through expressive, original work, young artists grapple with the larger issues facing our world today, bringing messages of hope and connection that chart a path forward. Building on the exhibition’s legacy of showcasing the best creative minds, these works combine concept, materials, skill and words that inspire — truly advanced visions. 

Tessa’s work, “What Have We Done?” was on display in the group show at the university throughout the month of February. 

In her written statement, she explained, “In my opinion what the world needs now is to unite against the climate crisis going on. To put our own material desires aside and prioritize the well-being of nature and animals. In doing so we will be able to achieve a world where humans and the environment live in harmony and are both able to thrive. We are running out of time so it is vital that we take care of our wildlife, for the health of their world and ours.”

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Artist Doug Reina

Join the Heckscher Museum of Art, 2 Prime Ave., Huntington for an inspiring day at the Museum and Dove/Torr Cottage in Centerport on Saturday, Sept, 18 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Begin the day at the Museum with an exclusive tour. Artist Doug Reina will share his insight and expertise as he takes you through the exhibition and highlights landscape paintings including many by Arthur Dove and Helen Torr. Then, head to historic Dove/Torr Cottage on Center Shore Road in Centerport to spend the afternoon painting en plein air. Bring your own painting supplies and pack a brown bag lunch.  Rain date is Sept. 19.  Fee is $50 per person, $40 members. To register, visit www.heckscher.org.

 

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From left: Suffolk Chamber Alliance Co-chairs Bob Fonti and Gina Coletti, Discover LI President and CEO Kristen Jarnagin, Greater Port Jeff Chamber Executive Director Barbara Ransome, VP of Community Development for People’s United Bank Elizabeth Custodio and artist Kara Hoblin in front of the new artwork in Port Jeff. Photo by Kyle Barr

Business advocates are hoping that local businesses in Port Jefferson can rise above the challenges of the day — on wings if necessary.

A new interactive mural was painted by a North Fork artist over the past week displaying two bird wings in the alleyway between Salsa Salsa and Chris Silver Jewelry. Each wing displays a host of flora, fauna and landmarks of the eastern part of Long Island. Residents and visitors are being encouraged to stand between the two wings to take pictures or selfies underneath the colorful feathers.

Greenport-based artist Kara Hoblin said her piece evolved over the course of painting to represent the multitude of things that make the East End unique. There is everything from monarch butterflies, who make a stop on Long Island during their migration, to the North Fork’s pumpkins in the fall to the everpresent deer. 

The mural is part of Discover Long Island and the Suffolk County Alliance of Chambers’ Shop Small Long Island campaign trying to encourage residents to shop small and shop local this holiday season despite the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Kristen Jarnagin, the president and CEO of Discover Long Island, said they are doing “everything we can to help our small businesses and downtowns.” 

Creating local art that can be utilized by social media campaigns and bring traffic downtowns is just one initiative of several, Jarnagin said. They are also emphasizing residents can use tools such as the Suffolk County Alliance of Chamber’s MyChamber App and Discover Long Island’s Downtown Deals Travel Pass app to allow shoppers to explore businesses within Long Island’s downtowns while also redeeming savings at their favorite shops. Discover LI is also pushing its own Long Island TV that airs every week on where to go and what to see on Long Island.

That message, coming in right before Small Business Saturday Nov. 28, has become especially important now, as the positive rate in Suffolk County rises past 4% in some areas, and all are looking to see if Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) implements any new restrictions or business shutdowns.

Co-Chairs of the Suffolk County Alliance of Chambers Bob Fonti and Gina Coletti said that they see these wings flying and they “want local businesses to soar as well.”

Small businesses have had more than a rough few months since the start of the pandemic. The murals, Fonti said, help make places like Port Jeff a destination. 

“It’s important that we as an alliance of chambers promote our downtowns,” Fonti said. “The financial tsunami, that we don’t know where that’s going to go, we want to drive 10 cars ahead of that, or hopefully ride above that wave.”

The new mural is just one of a host of public art the local chamber and Business Improvement District have been adding to the village over the past several months. Barbara Ransome, the executive director of the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, said “it’s an added attraction, for sure.”

“It’s visually appealing, and it’s safe,” she said. “Those combinations lend itself to hopefully people coming to see them.”

Ransome also thanked the landowner Dominick Parillo, who not only gave his blessing for the project but had people come in to whitewash the wall in preparation for the mural.

The original mural crafted for the village by Port Jeff artists Linda Menda-Alfin and Jennifer Hannaford was of a fish tank-type scene on an electrical box behind Chase Bank.  

The chamber had requested $1,000 in seed money from the BID back in January for the initial mural projects. Seeing the positive response, the chamber received an additional $2,000 to create even more murals on public infrastructure around the village. 

In addition to the one described before, Ransome said the village will have five electrical boxes featuring artwork. The chamber is planning another mural of a sea turtle and baby sea turtles on the alleyway wall between Chase Bank and Ralph’s Famous Italian Ices.

Another mural sponsored by Discover LI is being crafted for Long Beach in Nassau County, which new art will showcase the sites and other landmarks of western Long Island.

Concept art for Michael Manning’s scultpure which village officials plan to put in Rocketship Park. Port Jeff Mayor Margot Garant said the crab could become a symbol for the village. Image from Manning’s proposal

The crab and the sea turtle, both species harmed by trash in the oceans, could be coming to Port Jeff to represent its beachfront and to remind visitors of the importance of protecting the oceans. 

The sea turtle scultpure designed by Nobuho Nagasawa is expected to be placed in Harborfront Park. Exact location is still to be determined. Photo from Nagasawa’s proposal

Two sculptures, one of each animal, are slated to come into the village courtesy of two artists, one with decades of experience, the other just beginning his artistic career. 

Village of Port Jefferson trustees voted Nov. 2 to appropriate a total of $2,600 from the Farmers Market and Maritime Festival trust accounts to purchase the rights to the designs for the two sculptures. The pieces are designed to be filled with debris people might find on the beach to illustrate visually what is needed to keep both beaches and local waters clean. A similar statue was installed at Sunken Meadow State Park in Kings Park last year. (For more info, search “Shelley the Sea Turtle” at tbrnewsmedia.com.)

Village trustee Rebecca Kassay, who has a background in environmental activism, started work alongside other local leaders before she became trustee in September. She said she, Mayor Margot Garant and PJ resident Karen Levitov had seen some examples of these sculptures all over the world, and thought Port Jefferson, as a harborfront community, needed one as well.

“We thought, ‘How cool would it be to have a unique version in Port Jeff?’” Kassay said. “They’re functional — they’re empowering people not just to recycle, but be more conscious.”

One of the sculptures, also made to resemble a sea turtle, is designed by renowned artist Nobuho Nagasawa, a professor at Stony Brook University. Plans give two options for the turtle, one where the shell can be lifted and the trash dropped in, and another with the shell as a wire mesh. In her design document, Nagasawa said the artwork is inspired by “the wonderment of life in the ocean which is in danger.” The sculpture is destined for Harborfront Park. 

Nagasaawa, with years of experience in the art world, said it was good training for artists only just coming into their own. The professor worked with Port Jefferson in helping the village format the request for qualification, which allowed them to establish what kind of cost estimates they were looking at. 

The second sculpture, which the village hopes to install in Rocketship Park, resembles a giant crab, its pincers held up to the sky. SBU Undergraduate student Michael Manning wrote in his proposal that a crab is defensive, tenacious and can persevere, making it a great example to express the work to protect local waters. The crab’s thorax is a cage-like design, with one part made to hold trash and the other to hold bottles. Garant said they are looking to get the high school’s environmental club involved in designing a placard to go along with the sculpture.

“The crab was something we thought the kids could definitely get involved with,” she said. “We imagine the crab could become — like the horse is to Saratoga — the crab could be to Port Jefferson.” 

Michael Manning

Unlike other sculptures and pieces Nagasawa has worked on, even ones that had an interactive element, the professor said this was the first project where function was the main driving force. It was an interesting challenge for students, and now that Manning’s piece was chosen, the SBU art professor said she’s looking for the young artist, with some guidance from her, to carry through on the responsibility for getting the project completed. Her bigger hope is that the village considers even more such student art pieces in the future.

“I really appreciate the village trusted the students’ ability to make this proposal,” she said. “Students normally have very little chance of doing something like this, and I hope this can turn into something much bigger.”

Levitov, SBU’s Paul W. Zuccaire gallery director and curator, helped get the ball rolling with her connections to SBU’s artists. This project also dovetailed with an exhibition she was planning on environmental art.

Levitov said all the projects the committee received were “wonderful,” adding “the students were really innovative in their approaches — animal forms, glacial and nautical shapes, and baskets inspired by Native American weaving were all considered. “

“My hope is that this collaboration will lead to future opportunities for creative partnerships between Stony Brook University and the surrounding communities,” she said. 

The 11 submissions were adjudicated by a committee that included Kassay, Garant and Levitov, as well as Lisa Perry, president of Port Jefferson Harbor Education & Arts Conservancy, and Port Jefferson Conservation Advisory Committee member Dreania LeVine. A decision was made on the two designs Oct. 26. They also gave an honorable mention to SBU student Marta Baumiller.

Kassay said the village is currently looking to work with Environmental Sculptures, a company that specializes in such designs and is responsible for the Sunken Meadow sculpture as well. The next step, the trustee said, is to apply for some environmental grants for the projects. Kassay added with her experience she expects it won’t be too difficult to acquire grants from for such projects, as they tick off “a lot of boxes.”

The trustee put the tentative date of fall 2021 for fabrication of the two sculptures.

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New Artwork Four Years, 2 Million Pieces in the Making

Young people at the Comsewogue High School, both current students and graduates, looked down at their feet with a unique sort of pride. There on the floor, amongst a mosaic of approximately 2 million pieces, they could see all the time they spent on hands and knees, carefully laying each and every shard of stained glass and colored pebble by hand. 545 square feet of space, all of it spread out to create an image exemplifying what the students, teachers and admin say make Comsewogue unique.

The new mural, on the other side of the high school’s front doors and vestibule, displays a large Native American man, which the district says represents the area’s historic roots; a tree of knowledge to represent the growth of learning; and a rendition of Vincent van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” to represent the artists that were at Comsewogue and all those who will eventually find their way there.

High school Principal Michael Mosca said the project started in 2016 when current Assistant Superintendent Joe Coniglione was still principal of the high school. As assistant principal, Mosca walked the halls with Coniglione, who would pause at the entrance to the high school, thinking of what it could be.

“Every time we would walk past this space, he would always stop and he would look at it, and I would see the wheels turning and I could tell something was going on in there,” Mosca said. “It’s something a lot of our students could be proud of and say, ‘This is ours, we did this, and it’s going to showcase our Comsewogue pride.”

Comsewogue senior and first president of the Arts Honor Society, Alexa Bonacci, said “it’s incredible” to see all the hours she and her classmates have put into it come to fruition. Whether it was after school or even during, she said she has gotten 90 hours of community service hours working on this project alone.

Many of those who worked on the project have already graduated, but many came back to their alma mater to see the hours upon hours of work they put into it realized.

Gianna Alcala, a Comsewogue graduate and past president of the Art Honor Society, worked on it for three years, spending time on it even during the summer to help get it all completed. When she started on it during her sophomore year, there was only a section of the Native American’s head and some of “The Starry Night” image. She remembers cutting tiles into fourths or eighths in order to get better detail.  

“I’m in awe,” she said now seeing it all complete. “I could always see it finished in my head, but the fact that it’s actually come to life, it’s amazing.”

Coniglione said creating something new was a learning process, from having to redo a part of it after the floor cracked, and some redesigns of the mosaic from its original design.

“Every tile was glued down one at a time, nothing was on a mesh,” he said. “It took place over multiple graduating years, so to have a vision, and to have multiple years complete it with that same vision, is pretty impressive to me.”

Art teacher Gina Melton, a now-20-year veteran of the district, has been at the head of the project since its inception, helping lead the students in the project. The last year saw a huge bulk of the effort go to the mosaic.

“For all the high school kids who put so many hours into this, I’m really so proud of them,” she said.

Coniglione said it’s teachers like Melton who have made such a difference in the beauty of their schools.

“This building was built back in the ’70s, and it’s beautiful because of [Melton] and other art teachers like her doing creative projects within the school,” he said.

Mosca thanked custodian staff for helping to preserve the mural as students were walking around it and for helping finish its border.

Also included in the mural is a small but noticeable mint green homage to former Comsewogue Superintendent Joe Rella, who passed earlier this year, as well as a butterfly in homage to Rella’s wife Jackie, who was well known for her love of bright, fluttering insects.

Bob and Nancy Hendrick inside their new shop, Treasures America’s Artisan Gallery. Photo by Julianne Mosher

By Julianne Mosher

After traveling throughout the country, Bob and Nancy Hendrick knew where their next stop would be — Port Jefferson at Lighthouse Landing. 

Everything inside their new shop, Treasures America’s Artisan Gallery (or TAAG for short), is made in the USA. 

Both artists themselves, Bob Hendrick said that while traveling cross-country to and from California, the pair has seen a lot of talent that is often underappreciated. 

“With big-box stores, we often lose sight of the great people in our country who produce great work,” he said, “But there are people out there with talent who deserve the recognition.” 

The Kings Park couple said they have always loved Port Jefferson and wanted to become more involved with the village. Originally, they thought to open a pop-up shop for the goods to sell but decided on a whim to fill a vacant space at 14 East Broadway in Lighthouse Landing.

After about a month of planning, they officially opened their doors earlier this month. 

Inside the store are all handmade gifts and fine art from local to national artisans. 

“We seek out specific items,” he said. “And we want to give the opportunity for local artists to come by and show and sell their work.”

TAAG does custom work, as well, on-site.

While everything inside the Hendricks’ shop is made in America, they want it to be known they are huge supporters of those who have risked their lives keeping the country and its people safe. 

“We’re heavily involved in supporting military, police, firefighters and first responders because they mean a lot to us and to the community,” he said. “We like to give back to those who serve.”

One way they are giving back is by honoring different heroes every week. During the month of September, they offered 20 percent off purchases to firemen, healthcare workers and police officers, thanking them for their service. This week they honored military vets with an extra 10 percent discount.

The back part of the store is dedicated to veterans with its “Wall of Heroes.” The Hendricks encourage customers who have served to come in and sign their names within the stars that decorate the wall. Nancy’s father’s folded burial flag hangs upon them. 

And although they are new, the couple is excited to bring their own art and the art of others to downtown. Up until Oct. 15, TAAG is hosting a contest in honor of the upcoming election and will be creating a painting based on ideas that people in the community can submit. The winning idea will be created on a canvas, and the winner will be presented with the first number framed print.

“We have lot of things in mind for the future,” he said. “We want to support the area.”

TAAG is open Monday through Thursday 11 a.m. until 6 p.m., Friday through Saturday 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. 

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Professional muralist Linda Menda-Alfin, pictured, worked alongside Jennifer Hannaford to paint the new mural behind Chase Bank. Photo by Barbara Ransome

As Port Jefferson, as well as the rest of Long Island, is struggling to its feet after the last sorrowful months of the pandemic, Port Jeff business entities are looking to inject a little more life and art into places that haven’t seen it before.

The electrical box before it was painted with the mural. Photo by Barbara Ransome

The Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce and Business Improvement District worked together to fund a new art installation on a previously graffiti-covered electrical box behind Chase Bank on Main Street. The solid green box now features an aquatic scene like staring into a fishbowl, complete with painted faux wood panels on both the top and bottom of the cabinet. 

The project was actually being planned in January, but once the pandemic hit all plans for the new art installation were pushed back into summer. Chamber President Mary Joy Pipe was actually the one to suggest the fishbowl design, according to chamber director of operations Barbara Ransome. Artists Linda Menda-Alfin and Jennifer Hannaford, both of Port Jeff, spent two and a half days in July crafting the mural. It has been sprayed with a coat of varnish to protect the paint, and there is a security camera watching the space in case of any attempted vandalism.

Ransome said the chamber requested $1,000 in seed money back in January for the project.

“It was a three-pronged reason, one for beautification, two was for those areas that were blighted a little bit or vandalized with graffiti, and the third was to recognize our artistic community and make people aware of our artwork,” she said.  

The chamber has plans to paint another such mural on the electrical box on East Broadway just east of The Steamroom’s dining area. Both artists have already told Ransome they were interested in a second project.

Mayor Margot Garant said at the village’s Aug. 3 trustee meeting the chamber did an “outstanding job” on the murals. 

However, even more public art installations could be coming to Port Jeff in the next few months. The chamber has worked with tourism promoter Discover Long Island in creating a kind of mural tourism, with Port Jeff set to be one of the first of what could be many such installations. Maggie LaCasse, director of communications for Discover LI said the other mural is also being planned for Long Beach. The project is being funded by the tourist promoter though is working with local groups in finding the best locations. The installation of both murals is set for September.

The finished mural behind Chase Bank in Port Jefferson. Photo by Barbara Ransome

Street art, or murals, has seen a new wave of popularity in places like Philadelphia, which has been called the mural capital of the world for the number of incredible building-spanning artworks. 

“This is to generate more foot traffic in our downtowns for people to safely enjoy all our wonderful businesses — drum up some extra excitement for our shops,” LaCasse said.

The new mural is planned for the alleyway off of Main Street between Salsa Salsa and Chris Silver Jewelry. Ransome said this could be the perfect spot, with plenty of foot traffic and a nice solid brick wall. She said the tentative plan is for an interactive mural, to create a set of angel wings for people to stand under and take photos and selfies with.

“Street art tourism is a fantastic way to encourage foot traffic to our downtowns and keep our communities buzzing with pride during this unprecedented time,” said President and CEO of Discover Long Island Kristen Jarnagin in a statement. “This initiative is part of a series of targeted projects designed by Discover Long Island to boost economic recovery for the region. Long Island’s tourism industry is a $6.1 billion industry and an essential component in providing relief to the small business community whose lifeblood is at stake.”

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The mosaic includes the Comsewogue logo and the notorious cherry tree. Photo by Leah Chiappino

By Leah Chiappino

Comsewogue High School’s lobby will soon receive a unique face-lift. The Art Honor Society and students in the advanced studios and murals class are putting the finishing touches on a mosaic that spans the entire center of the room. Fully designed by students, it consists of intricately placed pieces of hand-cut glass that reflect in the light of surrounding windows, making the whole piece sparkle.

The high school’s Art Honor Society with art teacher Gina Melton and Assistant Super Joe Coniglione on the right. Photo by Leah Chiappino

The project, which began construction three years ago, was the brainchild of Assistant Superintendent Joe Coniglione. 

“It has been a labor of love,” he said

The area on which the mosaic now sits was once a pit where students could sit and socialize. Eventually, it was filled in with concrete and a mural was painted over it. However, over the years the floor aged and the concrete began to crack, prompting Coniglione to push for something sturdier. 

“My thought process was rather than to paint it and have it crack again, we could have our amazingly talented student do a mosaic,” he said.

He brought his vision to Gina Melton, an art teacher at the high school, who ran with it.

“Both [Coniglione] and I are Italians so we appreciate mosaics,” she said jokingly. “However, mosaics are beautiful, and we figured if they could last through Pompeii, hopefully they will last through Comsewogue.”

Students then began the design process, making sure they included the school’s warrior logo, and aspects of the surrounding area of Port Jefferson Station, including the signature cherry tree outside the school’s window. They also added a starry night sky, as homage to Vincent Van Gogh’s painting, “The Starry Night,” which is a favorite among many students.

The mosaic includes the Comsewogue logo and the notorious cherry tree. Photo from Gina Melton

After the design was approved, students began to install the 2 million pieces, transitioning from glass to tile over time. They have to cut the pieces, lay them out and glue them down. 

Melton admitted the project has been a learning curve. 

“The first year the students were a little hesitant because it was so new,” she said. “545 square feet of space is a daunting task, but now that they’re seeing everything coming together, they’re very proud of it. I can’t even tell you how blessed I am to have the kids I have.”

For students who built the project, the process has had its good and bad times.

 “It’s certainly resulted in many cuts and scratches over the years,” Art Honor Society Vice President Alexa Bonacci said. She added that it was worth it to be able to look back and see what was created. 

While the Art Honor Society only meets once a week to work on it, several students within the club devote their free period and time after school to the mosaic. Bonacci works on it every day. She does not participate in any sports and said most people she knows work on it at least three days per week. She estimated Art Honor Society President Gianna Alcala has worked on it for at least 70 hours.

“This is something so many people are attached to,” society secretary Maison Anwar said. “When you see all the different techniques throughout the piece it makes you feel like everybody has a piece of themselves.”

The project was delayed because of the floor crack and the group of students subsequently having to redo the backboard. The original design was thrown out over the summer, forcing students to have to design much of the  project themselves. This has led the district to host what they call “mosaic workshops,” enabling students to work on the project for entire days at a time. “We made a lot of headway in those days,” Melton said.

Coniglione praised the impact of the program on students. 

“You would be surprised if you sat in Gina’s classroom for a day and saw students who struggle elsewhere in school,” he said. “They excel in her class because she allows students to find their creativity, and finds something good in every person,” he said.

Melton struggled to hold back tears. 

“They are amazing kids,” she said.

Richard Anderson shows art skills to elementary student. Photo by David Luces

“They give me so much life — so much energy,” Richard Anderson, an Edna Louise Spear Elementary School art teacher said of his students. “It is so much fun.”

Anderson, who has been a fixture at the elementary school for the past 34 years, will retire at the end of the school year. He will be leaving behind a lasting impact on his current and former students over the years. 

Richard Anderson shows the artwork of one of the students. Photo by David Luces

“It has gone by so quickly, but I’ve had a blast teaching something I love,” he said, reflecting on his career. “I’ve been a part of the school community for so long and that’s coming to an end. I’ve been getting all these letters from the kids and it’s really nice but it’s sad at the same time. But it tells me that I have done a good job.”

Anderson’s love for art began when he was young. He fondly remembers a trip to The Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan when he was 7 years old and laying eyes on the work of famed artist Chuck Close. 

“My art teacher took me down to The Museum of Modern Art, and they had huge airbrush paintings of Chuck Close and some of his friends,” he said. “At 7 I was like, ‘I want to be an artist just like him.’”

This began a lifelong passion for the Port Jeff art teacher. From there, he would go on to State University College at Buffalo to get his art degree. During that time, he started experimenting with chainsaw wood carvings. He mentioned one of his inspirations was Wendell Castle, a renowned art furniture artist.  

“I had experience with a chainsaw working in the woods, cutting down trees with my father,” he said. 

Anderson would compete in wood carving competitions in upstate New York and found success, winning some events. He said the wood carving scene has really grown over the years and has gotten more refined from carving bears and eagles into more complex designs, such as his rendition of a mermaid carved in wood. 

The elementary art teacher said he enjoys wood carving because it is challenging and pushes his personal abilities further. Anderson hopes to continue to do wood carvings for the village’s harvest festival as well as coming back to the school to do wood carvings for the students. 

Meghan McCarthy, a fellow art teacher at the elementary school, has worked with Anderson for the past two years and says he sets a great example. 

“He’s has been an excellent mentor,” she said. “He’s taught me to approach elementary art as a fine-arts program. He sets the bar high and it shows in the kids’ artwork and shows what they are capable of doing.”

“He laid down a solid foundation for me.”

— Meghan McCarthy

McCarthy said she really lucked out having someone like Rich who has immense amount of experience teaching. 

“He laid down a solid foundation for me,” she said. 

Anderson admits it will be hard for him to retire, but he is looking forward to spending more time with family, getting back into his artistic furniture business and enjoying motorcycling and hunting. 

“I’ve been really blessed to have had a great career and leave a good impact,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate to work with some former students of mine and be able to teach some of my former students’ children.”

The Wading River resident said the students motivate him to push himself and in turn he pushes them. 

“It works together, these kids have so much ability and we need to support them,” he said. “I have been given his great gift and it has meant so much to me.”