Creative types suffer for their art, according to the old saying. Sometimes, however, art can heal when people are suffering.
Together since 1967 and married in Canada in 2003, Tom Dolan, was slowly dying of Parkinson’s disease in 2015. His husband, Tony La Marca, says that painting was his saving grace during that devastating period. “I had to hire people to take care of Tom at our house because it was too overwhelming for me,” he says. “When they would come over, I would leave to go to art workshops at least four times a week. I would not have made it through if it wasn’t for my art.”
La Marca is president of the Suburban Art League (suburbanart.org) at Syosset-Woodbury Park. Incorporated in 1963, the Suburban Art League now has more than 140 members, at an average age of 65, from both Nassau and Suffolk and offers art programs for all levels of artists. While some of the members enjoy the workshops and social aspects, other members are highly passionate about their craft at a professional level. Here are their stories.
TONY LA MARCA, 83, Westbury
You won’t find La Marca at a museum in East Hampton admiring a Jackson Pollack painting. “I never liked abstract art. It doesn’t do anything for me,” says La Marca, who prefers the works of Claude Monet and Winslow Homer.
A landscape artist who occasionally does portraits, La Marca started painting when he retired in 1996 from United Airlines after 40 years as an aircraft operations agent. “My mother was living with us when I retired, and I would drop her off at art classes at the Suburban Art League,” says La Marca. He decided to take a few classes to see what they were like.
Since heading the league, La Marca and his executive team have instituted workshops twice a year featuring demonstrations by renowned artists. In addition to classes, the league hosts two art competitions with prizes — one for members only and an open art competition.
“Believing in the work of the masters, like Monet and Rembrandt, is still relevant and keeping their traditional methods of painting is very important to a group of us,” said La Marca. “Sure, a lot of people use computers to create art today, but I feel it can’t replace creating a painting with the traditional artists’ tools.”
SHEILA CHEZAR-HERSHKOWITZ, 65, Wantagh
Chezar-Hershkowitz’s love affair with art started in kindergarten at PS 209 in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, when she saw her first easel. “I remember it like it was yesterday. I stepped up to the easel and I saw the white, yellow, red, blue, and black paints, and every part of my brain was on fire with excitement,” she says.
Of course, Chezar-Hershkowitz couldn’t help but become a painter. One uncle, Boris Chezar, was a well-known Ukrainian artist in the 1940s, while another, Abraham David Levitt, was a distinguished architect in New York City. “I come from a whole family of artists,” says Chezar-Hershkowitz, who specializes in colorful oil portraits. “It’s in my DNA.”
Chezar-Hershkowitz received her degree in fine art at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. She became a makeup artist in Manhattan for Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s department stores, TV and print media, including Playboy magazine.
In 2012, she opened Chezar Art Studio (chezarartstudio.com) in North Bellmore, adjacent to Doc’s Sports and Memorabilia, a store owned by her husband of 36 years, Steve Hershkowitz. Besides teaching art to all levels, she creates an environment where artists “can encourage and inspire each other.”
Chezar-Hershkowitz still attends workshops and enters competitions. Her philosophy of art is to be authentic learning your craft. “You have to know how to build a house, before you can decorate it,” she says. “That’s what I tell my students.”
RAY GUTTADAURIA, 59, Massapequa
Growing up in San Cataldo, Sicily, Guttadauria recalls art being a building block of his childhood. “There was always talk of da Vinci and Michelangelo constantly,” he says. “I guess that’s where my love for the masters came to be.”
He was 8 when his family moved to Brooklyn, and his love for drawing and painting blossomed. In junior high, he spoke to his guidance counselor about making art a career. The counselor made a testing appointment for him at Brooklyn Technical High School. He was accepted into the mechanical drawing program. “My high school training led me to my career as an electrician. I guess the counselor felt I couldn’t make much money as an artist,” he chuckles.
He never lost the desire to paint. Upon retiring in 2015 from Adco Electrical, an electrical contractor on Wall Street where he was an executive, Guttadauria started taking lessons at the Suburban Art League with a focus on oil portraits and cityscapes. He now manages the league’s workshops.
His most inspiring moment, he says, was seeing his first Rembrandt at 16. “It was Rembrandt’s portrait of ‘Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer.’ I was floored when I walked in the room,” he says. “That is one of the reasons for my love of portrait painting.”
THEODORA ZAVALA, 68, East Meadow
A resident of East Meadow since 1984, Zavala believes in different approaches to art. “I paint what I feel is the essence of my subject. I like to show a different viewpoint or angle that leaves the viewer unsettled.”
It was when she was a senior at Jamaica High School that Zavala’s artistic talent was first cultivated. “My art teacher Ms. Jessie Fuchs recommended that after high school I take classes at the Art Student League of New York in Manhattan to advance my drawing capability,” Zavala says. “I took her advice and that is one of the main reasons I went to college for art.”
She received a bachelor’s degree in art from Queens College. After graduating, she worked for McCall Patterns, illustrating sewing pattern guides and then became a teacher’s assistant.
She got involved in fine art again at the Suburban Art League and at the Roslyn Art Museum, after earning her master’s in elementary education from Hofstra University at the age of 52. Zavala now teaches art at PS 38 in Rosedale. She also displays her work on two websites: dailypaintworks.com and artspan.com.
On her philosophy of painting, Zavala says “It is not just a landscape but a complete composition that creates a mood, mystery and tension.”
SUZIE ALVEY, 65, Garden City
Alvey can’t fight the tears as she recalls the moment when her love of art was ignited. The first-grade librarian handed each student a brush and told them to paint a few strokes on the blank canvas in the classroom. “We had a painting of a vase of zinnias next to it that the teacher provided, and we had to try and help recreate it,” Alvey says as her eyes get misty. “That was so special to me.”
From then on, her artistic path was paved. She received her bachelor’s degree in art from SUNY Albany and went on to work as a window and mannequin display artist for JCPenney at Roosevelt Field mall for 20 years. After raising three children, she was motivated to get back into fine art by joining the Suburban Art League and other associations. She is also assistant village historian for Garden City.
One of Alvey’s specialties are her oil paintings of local Garden City residents’ porches inset on a street map of the village from the early 1900s. “People love the idea of having their porch inset against the antique street map,” Alvey says. “I have painted dozens and they have all been well received.”
Alvey also has a calligraphy business and has landed some unusual commission projects, including one that involved a plastic polo ball hit by Britain’s Prince Charles while in Florida. A former resident of Garden City commissioned Alvey to write in calligraphy that the prince had dented the ball. “Figuring out how to do calligraphy on a dented ball was almost impossible,” she says. “Everything had to be measured right so the final product was perfect.”