Ian Patterson, 17, walks around Main Street in his hometown of Bellport and points out pieces of art that pop up inconspicuously.
In a courtyard, a fence is lined with wood cutouts of sailboats on water; a similar motif serves as a decorative fence between storefronts. Patterson comments on the nuances like gashes in the wood sanded down to create texture and splatters of white paint added to show the water crashing against a boat’s hull.
“It looks simple,” he said. “But they’re actually very detailed.”
Patterson knows the work well. Earlier this summer, he started working with the artist, John DiNaro, who for the first time took on a handful of apprentices this summer.
“When you want to learn a lot,” said DiNaro, who has been a professional artist since he was 17, “you apprentice with the masters — and I’m 67, nobody knows more than me.”
DiNaro, of Bellport, has mastered many mediums, including wood, glass, steel, fabric, clay and lighting. He is also a muralist. For the past 30 years, he has also worked in art education in various capacities across the Island.
This year, he began working with two Bellport High School students — Patterson and his classmate Elfe Marschall, 18, of East Patchogue — who volunteered to help create a wooden, three dimensional sign for the entrance to Ho-Hum Beach.
Patterson said one day the students were working with DiNaro but lamenting the low-paying jobs they’d have to return to the next day, and he offered to pay them in exchange for more time. Thus, an apprenticeship began.
Now, Patterson, Marschall, and two others, Parker Lyons, 15, of Bellport, and John Golding, 14, of Ridge, spend two to three days a week with DiNaro. They learn all the intricacies of DiNaro’s trade in a hands-on experience.
“I teach them everything from design, to learning how to use the tools safely, to completion, to how to use your portfolio,” DiNaro said. “But most important, I teach them the four elements of success: passion, commitment, ambition and manners.”
They’ve learned them quickly. The students speak intelligently about the work, take responsibility for the delicate pieces of art that surround them, and pride in what they’ve learned to do.
Marschall, who is attending Bradley University in the fall to study graphic design, said the experience is a valuable one because it propels her into the art world and gives her a professional reference. But also, she said, it’s cool.
“I look around at different things made of wood and I think, I know how to make that,” she said.
DiNaro’s foray into being an apprentice has inspired him to think bigger. He said his dream is to open up a school where older, experienced artists can use their talents to mentor the young. He said with the rising cost of higher education and a shrinking job market, the future for the youth is in self-employment. He is currently looking for anyone who can help him get the idea off the ground.
“I want to target high school kids who have the four elements of success but not the money for college,” he said. “There is no school like it in the world.”
Patterson, who is working two other jobs this summer and will attend St. Joseph’s College in the fall for pre-medicine, wants to eventually become a dentist. But through DiNaro, he’s discovered a true passion for art.
“It’s not work when you’re having so much fun,” he said. “He wouldn’t even have to pay us. A lot of us would come down here for free just to see what we could do next.”