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Arts and re-creation: Long Island schoolchildren step up to Getty challenge

Educators at Long Beach’s East Elementary School created a video of their copycats of famous paintings made from household items during the COVID-19 lockdown. Inspired by the Getty museum’s social media challenge to schoolchildren, it was created to send a message of commitment and community to students confined at home. Credit: Long Beach Schools

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Home is where the art is.

Just ask dozens of students at Long Island schools assigned to recreate acclaimed classic and contemporary paintings. Portrait, still life, landscape? Their choice.

The catch: They had to use materials (and people) available around their home. Fitting, since everyone is under COVID-19 lockdown.

For this anything-but-paint-by-numbers project, kids raided closets, cupboards, toy chests, jewelry boxes, garden sheds and garages. They enlisted mom, dad, grandparents and the family pet. Yep, Ms. Kitty and Ruff chipped in. Completed redos were photographed and submitted to teachers for review.

Educators from Connetquot, Wantagh, Garden City and Manhasset school districts who participated agreed that students stepped up. (Long Beach instructors got in on the act, too. See sidebar.)

“Students went all out,” says Krystal Zaglool, 38, an art teacher at Idle Hour Elementary School in Oakdale and John Pearl Elementary School in Bohemia. “The beauty of the assignment was getting them to really look at a piece of art to recreate it. I just love the results.”

Works by Vincent Van Gogh, Edouard Manet, Paul Cezanne were among masterpieces rendered anew. Ditto paintings by Frida Kahlo, Norman Rockwell and street artist Banksy.

“The students didn’t just look at works of art but participated with them. Some gathered props from around the house and struck a pose,” says Zaglool. “We left it open. That’s the great thing about art. Everybody interprets the assignment differently.”

Mia Vicchiarelli, an Idle Hour Elementary School first-grader, grabbed her favorite baby doll for her redo of a late 13th-century painting called “Virgin and Child.” The original artist, whose name is unknown, is referred to as Master of Saint Cecilia. Mia’s doll’s name is — wait for it — Cecilia.

That was an uncanny coincidence, according to Mia’s mom, Ashley Marrero, 35, who works in the medical field. “Honestly, this was a big assignment,” she says. “That’s what I liked about it. Mia’s got a great imagination. Kids went through different art and picked what they liked. Everyone has their own preferences and perspectives.”

Manhasset Secondary School 10th-grader Hunter Longobardi struck a pose to put his stamp on a Banksy work depicting a man about to fling a bouquet. “It was so much fun,” says Hunter. “We had to take the picture at least five times.”

In addition to being a patient photographer, Hunter’s mom, Michele Longobardi, 52, was the prop master. She bought the flowers. And after the shoot? “I kept them,” she says.

This homework art project borrows from a challenge issued across social media March 25 by the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The cultural institution seized upon the idea as an antidote to social distancing implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic that put museums and most everything else off-limits. But great art is just a click away. Long Island teachers provided images from the Getty collection and beyond to students.

“We wanted to give people a way to engage with art in meaningfully educational and entertaining ways,” says Annelisa Stephan, assistant director for digital content strategy at the Getty. “This challenge seemed like a good marriage of the two. It’s a way to share your perspective. It doesn’t cost any money.”

Based on responses and social media posts, Stephan estimates that more than 150,000 at-home art re-creators have taken the digital dare. “It’s definitely struck a chord and become a cultural moment,” she says. “Homes have become museums.”

Marie Ucci, an art teacher with nearly 24 years of experience at East Woods School in Oyster Bay, calls the project “exciting. Each student’s submission had surprises,” she says.

That includes Emma Sordi, one of Ucci’s seventh-graders, who recreated “Man With a Hoe,” by 19th-century French artist Jean-Francois Millet. In it, a weary peasant leans on the tool.

Sordi says she was drawn to “the clothes and the aesthetic.” Instead of a hoe, she used a croquet mallet, but only after artistic tinkering. “I tried a golf club, but it was too tall,” says Sordi. “It didn’t feel right.”

Wantagh Elementary School fourth-grader Adrian Rafael De Chavez leaned into the same oil-on-canvas and pieced elements together like a jigsaw puzzle. Pants? Mom’s scrubs. The hoe and sweater? Both belong to Dad. And what’s on his head? A gaiter. “Adrian has a very creative mind,” says his mother, Girlie De Chavez, 51, a nurse.

Why did Millet’s painting speak to the 10-year-old art lover? “It was simple yet meaningful,” he says. “The man looked like he was doing hard work all day.”

Instead of putting herself into the art, Kierstin Lore, another one of Ucci’s students, chose Cezanne’s “Still Life with Apples.” “There’s a lot of detail, and I liked that,” says Lore, who gave this assignment a high mark. “It was fun.”

Manet’s painting of an elegantly dressed young woman holding a parasol in “Spring” proved a popular choice for 2020 mimicry. Willa Wang, an East Woods student, Kaitlyn Moran, who attends Wantagh Elementary School, and Juliette Chapman, who goes to the Stewart School in Garden City, each put their mark on the work. Dressing for the artistic re-creation was a family affair. Wang and Moran borrowed hats from their mothers. Chapman’s little sister loaned her a topper.

Moran, who visited the Getty Museum last year with her family, came away from the project with an invigorated appreciation for art. “I feel like if I was to go back after doing this assignment I would be more excited about being there,” she says.

That’s one of the take-aways of the assignment, educators agree. That includes siblings Laura Pashayan, 29, an instructor at Wantagh Elementary School, and Melissa Pashayan, 35, who teaches at Stewart School in Garden City. “Laura said to me, ‘We’re doing the coolest project at my school,” says the elder sister. “I got so jealous. It’s such a great idea.”

“This assignment checked off so many boxes,” says Laura Pashayan, who collaborated with Wantagh school district colleagues Krista Hagan and Dana Gillman. “School can often be black and white but art is all about color. I was surprised at how detailed the re-creations were and how much time and energy they put into this. This made me constantly smile. It’s so fun to see the way kids think.”

The first thing Wantagh Elementary School student Michael Marion thought of when he laid eyes on English artist Joseph Wright’s 1760s painting called “Two Boys with a Bladder” was that his lamp was shaped like an avocado. That’s because it would replicate a key part of the art. In the oil-on-canvas two youngsters inflate an animal’s bladder into a balloon-like toy. (Hey, there was no PlayStation.)

“The lamp was my starting point,” says Michael, who rounded up white towels and recruited his older brother to complete the tableau. He also made sure the photo captured the mood. “The first picture was way too bright,” he says.

“The level of creativity these kids push out is incredible,” says Melissa Pashayan. “It’s been so fun to see students dress up like a Renaissance painting and to use their parents and pets and siblings. They could work independently, but many got family members involved.”

“I try to pick things that are educational and fun,” she continues. “This was the perfect project to combine art history and creativity and family togetherness.”

The various interpretations and depictions don’t surprise the Getty’s Stephan. “Kids are natural artists. They’re going to make their own rules.” More than 21/2 months into the challenge, she says it is “still going strong. Schools and teachers have given it a new life,” says Stephan.

Stewart School fifth-grader Claire Arendt was inspired by a Frida Kahlo self-portrait. “I chose this one because it looked different. I didn’t think a lot of people would do it,” says Arendt. “Different people made different things.”

For Claire, who counts art as one of her favorite subjects, putting together the redo was like a step-by-step recipe. 1) Apply eyeliner to create a monobrow. 2) Rummage through Mom’s jewelry to find the perfect earring. 3) Plant flowers in hair. 4) Smile. No, actually, don’t smile.

Allie Fiero, one of Melissa Pashayan’s second-graders, channeled Napoleon Bonaparte for his redo of a painting by Jacques-Louis David. It depicts the French leader on horseback.

Jimmy the Giraffe, who’s been Allie’s plush pal since he was 18 months old, was his stand-in for a steed. A firefighter’s hat topped things off.

“I think it came out A-plus,” says Allie, who adds that he “loves drawing and doing crafts.” His next artist endeavor? “A re-creation out of Legos.”

Allie’s mom, Erin Fiero, 41, speaks for other parents whose kids are dealing with the ups and downs of at-home schooling when she calls the assignment a masterpiece.

“This project does more than expose kids to great works of art,” she says. “Isolation can be weird and hard for the kids, but this was something fun that brought us all together. It connected us just at the right time.”

Video inspired by images

Copy-catting famous paintings out of household items during COVID-19 lockdown was simply too rich, too fun, too inspiring for Cristine Zawatson, assistant principal of East Elementary School in the Long Beach school district, and her colleagues to pass up.

“We wanted to promote creativity, investigative skills for students,” says Zawatson, who had the staff’s art re-creations made into a video. “Works of art to share some creativity with you,” reads the opening shot. “We miss you and we hope you enjoy our creations!”

How could they not? Especially reading teacher Shari Steier’s take on a portrait of a woman wearing a ruff imagines the frilled collar as rolls of toilet paper. Or Leonardo da Vinci’s “Lady with an Ermine” redone as “Lady with a Cranky Cat.”

As images inspired by Edgar Degas, Raphael, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Johannes Vermeer, Rene Magritte, Michelangelo and others roll out in video, Whitney Houston’s version of Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love” plays.

“It tied into the theme of using original art and doing our rendition of it,” says Zawatson, who came up with the underscoring idea. “It had a nice message.”

“Worlds are turning, and we’re just hanging on,” Houston sings. “Facing our fear and standing out there alone … ”

For all of the laughs the video inspires, the sense of commitment and community comes through. So does a reminder that despite COVID-19 confinement, students aren’t alone. The video’s final visual are these words: “We are here for you.”

— Joe Dziemianowicz

Get your art on

Find information about the Getty challenge on Twitter @GettyMuseum, on Facebook at facebook.com/gettymuseum, on Instagram at gettymuseum and on its website at nwsdy.li/GettyChallenge.

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