New Rochelle, NY Students Pursue Extraordinary Opportunities in the Arts

New Rochelle, NY Students in the Arts



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Jacobi Medical Hospital Gala Fundraiser

Jacobi Hospital Gala fundriaser - Yankee manager Joe Girardi signing commemorative  vase for auction.

What a nice surprise to see Joe Girardi and his wife Kim at the “Welcome Home” Jacobi Hospital gala fundraiser. Over 500 Doctors and nurses attended and many were honored for their service and dedication.
They signed the wet clay vase on the potter’s wheel that I just created. It will be available for viewing and auction at the Hospital.

It’s funny I had a thought months before this event about doing a fundraiser with Derek Jeter and Joe Girardi for Jeter’s foundation. Sure enough one out of two appeared.

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Shaping Memories in Shelton

Sharing Memories

The gray clay made for an unusual sensation in Claire Fox’s hands.  “It feels soft and it feels really squishy,” the 8-year-old said.

But Claire enjoyed molding and shaping the sticky, clumping stuff into something she will be able to keep and show off for a long time.

Claire and her classmates at Booth Hill School in Shelton got their hands a little messy this week with the help of Cliff Mendelson.

The artist guided students on how to shape the clay into American Indian-inspired pots.  The children first mashed their pieces of clay flat on their art room desks, then shaped them into sturdy bowls and used plastic butter knives, forks, beads and other tools to create designs.

All students at Booth Hill had the chance to work with Mendelson over the past five days.  This is the second year that Booth Hill’s art room has been running and the first year with a kiln that will be used to solidify the youngsters’ creations.

Mendelson — who visits more than 40 schools a year — said the children always seem to take to the clay quickly. They love that they can use their hands to create a unique item.

“It’s the simplest way to make pottery without a potter’s wheel,” Mendelson said. “It’s so responsive to them and they’re so excited.”

Teresa Gagnon, the cultural arts director for Booth Hill’s Parent Teacher Organization, delighted in seeing the kids work with the pottery.

“We hope we can have him back next year,” Gagnon said.

Third-grader Gabby Rago, 8, made a pot with clay back when she was in kindergarten. She said liked Wednesday’s work with Mendelson, when she carefully pressed her fin- gers to shape her piece just right.

“It’s cool and I like making things, so this is fun,” she said.

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Multicultural Ceramic Mask Making at Seely Place

Multicultural Mask

On Friday, January 9, Artist-in- Residence, Cliff Mendelson shared his expertise and talent as he demonstrated the art of Multicultural Ceramic Mask Making in a workshop for third grade students of Seely Place Elementary funded by Edgemont PTA Cultural Arts Committee.

Students enjoyed learning about the process and effort involved in creating ceramics pieces and gained an appreciation for cultures that are unfamiliar to them. Samples of finished works were discussed in light of the history of art in various cultures and how its applications are alive in the world today.

Students created their own individual clay masks using the style and techniques of many cultures including Greek, African, Asian and Native American. The various symbols, patterns and imagery were utilized in their own works to explore this tradition, rich in ceramic history. Students left feeling inspired and proud of their work that will be on display during the school’s Multicultural Feast in May.

“We are all looking forward to the Multicultural Feast which is a culmination of the third grade studies of worldwide cultures. The students are learning about customs, art, history, dance, music and foods that are outside the familiar to give a better understanding of the world we all live in.” explained Seely Place Cultural Arts Co-Chairs Laura Kim and Noelle Creed. “The Day in Clay is a special component of a year long mission where the students learn about the world trough explorations of creativity.”

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‘Day in Clay’ creates a lasting work of art

Fox Meadow

On Monday, Jan. 13, Fox Meadow art teacher Sara Faranda spread newspapers across the tables to protect them from the creative efforts of the incoming third–graders. She placed bins filled with tools at the center of every counter. But on that particular afternoon, Faranda was not alone with her class. The Fox Meadow PTA had arranged for Cliff Mendelson, founder and artist-in- residence of Day In Clay, to help the students explore ceramic techniques and create a lasting work of art for the school.

As soon as the kids walked into Faranda’s art room, they could not help but “oh” and “ah” over the tiles set out to serve as models for the activity. They quickly sat down, eager to get to work and learn.

About 100 6-by-6 tiles designed by the children will form a mural titled “The unity of Diversity in Nature.” It will be installed on a wall by the main staircase at the school.

trees and flowers,” Faranda explained. The children chose drawings of flowers, leaves and trees they wanted to put onto their tiles. The organic theme is appropriate for the third-graders, according to principal Duncan Wilson. Not only does it fit into the classroom curriculum, but the third-graders are the most enthusiastic gardeners in the school’s organic garden.

The program  teaches  the  “importance of the global diversity of plant life and its diversity in cross- cultural imagery and variety, beauty and utility across cultures,” said Mendelson. The tiles made by the children will depict plants from all over the world.

“Part of what they would learn would be how to take a two-dimensional image and make it three-dimensional,” Mendelson said. “As a ceramic artist, I give them the whole range of the process, starting with basically a slab of clay, to building these up into three-dimensional tiles.”

The children were enthusiastic. “I liked how we learned how to build and subtract on a clay tile,” said henry Nova.

“I loved working with a real ceramic artist. I had so much fun!” said Mykaela Madoff.

Sam wetzstein “liked how he taught us to make our plant design realistic.”

Mendelson said the students will “get to benefit from seeing their work on the wall” for many years to come.

Wilson believes this project is not only a great experience for the kids but it is also “a wonderful activity for the community.” having Mendelson in the classroom allows the children “to see the work of real working artists” as well as to learn techniques.

The mural installation is planned for the spring.

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Getting their hands dirty for art

Getting their hands dirty

With a cylinder of wet gray clay spinning in the middle of the Somers Middle School art classroom, Dan Lisowski was the first student volunteer in his class to help shape Cliff Mendelson’s pottery-in-progress.

After dipping his hands into a bucket of clay slip – a mix of clay and water – Dan smiled when he squeezed the clay between his middle fingers near the base of the wheel and pushed it upward.

“It feels cool!” the 13-year-old said while Mendelson, a professional potter and visiting artist, controlled the speed of the wheel with a pedal similar to a car accelerator.

After walking away from the machine saying, “That was awesome,” nine more eighth-graders raised their hands high in the air to be the next to shape the clay.

Meghan Gioffe’s art class was one of four that day, and one of eight Somers Middle School classes overall, to participate in Mendelson’s “A Day of Clay” presentation last week. The Somers Education Foundation paid most of the $6,900 bill to secure Mendelson for the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders, according to Gioffe.

As he has done for 20 years, Mendelson taught students not only about making ceramics, but also about art history and culture. In his 83-minute session with the second eighth-grade class on Jan. 10, he instructed students about proper ceramic techniques; the relationship between form and function; and the differences among European, American Indian, Latin American and Far Eastern pottery.

To do this, he not only started making ceramics on his potter’s wheel, but also showcased posters and other visual aids from different cultures “to demonstrate how the pieces are made and what the connection is between the cultures and the patterns and symbols,” he said.

The second student in the class to work with the clay, 13-year-old Matt Dalton, said his favorite pots that Mendelson brought with him were a Greek one, with a wide shoulder and thin neck, and a Thai one, whose handle was in the shape of an elephant trunk.

Julia Cavaliere said she liked the double-spouted, ceremonial American-Indian pot Mendelson brought. “I like the handle,” she said. “And the triangle designs are cool.”

Mendelson, a Rockland County resident, said he was impressed by the Somers students’ enthusiasm, curiosity and art appreciation.

“I found the students to be really focused,” said Mendelson, who will return four to six more times this school year. “They see that it’s not about midterm exams. This is really about getting them connected to themselves.”

Gioffe, in her second year in the Somers schools, said Mendelson made a great impression.

“We don’t get to work on the wheel in the classroom, so this is something completely new, so it’s always nice to see the awe in the kids’ faces when they see Cliff work,” she said.

Mendelson, 49, graduated from New Rochelle High School and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. The former Parsons School of Design professor now teaches at Westchester Community College.

“But mostly, my main focus is working with the kids now,” he said. “I’ve really cut down on all my other teaching engagements to do this, and I’m finding it so fulfilling – the response. You know, it’s just sort of like, you feel at the end of the day that they’re getting something.”

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Harrison Education Foundation awards grant to Samuel J. Preston Elementary School

Second and fourth grade students at West Harrion’s Samuel J. Preston Elementary School watched in amazement as ceramic arts expert Cliff Mendelson dragged his paintbrush around the surface of a still wet, just-formed c l a y b ow l . M e n d e l s o n ’s workshop, “A Day in Clay,” took place from April 6-7 at Preston Elementary’s art room, with the focus of the lesson on creating handmade architectural tiles using the symbols, imagery, textures and patterns of Native American descent. Each student was responsible for design- ing their own tile, which will hang in the school indefinitely.

Students were given the opportunity to decorate the entranceway of their school with clay tiles, under the instruction of Mendelson, that will remain there permanently thanks to a $2,000 grant bestowed upon t h e school by the Harrison Education Foundation.

“I was thrilled to help these children explore the many  techniques  of  clay,” said Mendelson. “I hope that by mixing the art of clay with the techniques used by Native Americans, this hands-on workshop will reinforce traditional classroom teachings. An instructional/hands-on session allows all the students to experience some aspects of working with clay.”

Students were introduced to all phases of ceramic work, including rolling clay and forming pottery on the wheel. The children were awestruck by the careful painting techniques employed by Mendel- son as the ceramic bowl he had just created spun around the wheel . M e n d e l s o n ’s workshop also included a study of hand-painting techniques and a historical view of pottery and ceramic paint- ing as a mode for story telling.

“The children absolutely loved the workshop, they were in awe,” said Kim Kilcoyne, art teacher a t S a m u e l J . Preston Elementary School. “They’re excited that their pieces will be permanently

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Celebrating a life taken too soon


Celebrating a Life TakenRAMSEY — As they have every year for 20 years during the third week of May, the John Y. Dater Elementary School community is celebrating a life taken too soon.

Two decades have not eased the pain of that loss; nor has a financial settlement only finalized last year by the government held responsible for that loss.

It stays with you for the rest of your life,” Tom Dater of Mahwah said of the death of his daughter, Gretchen, aboard Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in a 1988 terrorist attack. “It’s evident we are handling things better, but the word ‘closure’ we laugh at.”

The Syracuse University student was returning from a semester studying art in London along with 35 of her school mates when the bombing, engineered by Libyan terrorists, ripped apart the plane she was on, killing 270 people.

Her middle school art teacher, Michael Gratale, now principal of Dater, remembers learning about the bombing as if it was yesterday.

“I was coming out of what was Dater school at the time because I coached  basketball  for  Smith school and we were practicing there. I turned on the radio in my car and that’s when I found out about the plane…She was such a sweetheart, a great kid.” She would have turned 41 on Sunday, May 17.

In October, the Libyan government settled on a $2.7 billion compensation package for the families of those killed aboard the Pan Am flight and in a bombing of a German nightclub. Although reports indicated the families would each receive $10 million, Joan Dater, Gretchen’s mother, said she was prohibited by a non-disclosure agreement from talking about its details.

She said, however, that what money the family has received is being put toward the programs and scholarships that have been established to honor Gretchen and the Syracuse students who died, including an annual scholarship for Ramsey High School seniors and the events at Dater during what has become known as Gretchen Dater Art Week.

Gretchen’s love of art figures large in this now annual event at the school she once attended. An art room at the elementary school was dedicated in her honor last year, and art-related activities are part of the students’ curriculum throughout the week. The commemoration concludes with a luncheon attended by Gretchen’s childhood friends and family members.

Joan Dater said she was able to cope with the “shock” and “devastation” of Gretchen’s death because of all the support the family received from neighbors, friends and family. But what pulled her out of her slump was a desire to “fight back.”

She began meeting with other parents who lost children in the Pan Am bombing in early 1989 and formed an advisory board to seek justice for it. In addition to meeting every quarter, they lobbied politicians for legislation seeking retribution by the Libyan government. Joan Dater credits Sen. Frank Lautenberg for the financial settlement secured last year.

Although Gretchen’s brother, Chris, 35, said that “legally, for the most part, I think it’s come to a close,” closure on an emotional level is a “lifelong process.”

On Thursday, members of the Dater family and their friends sat around tables draped in yellow cloth and a centerpiece of flowers to share their memories in the very school named for Gretchen’s great-grandfather.

Joan Dater, who was an English professor at William Paterson University, said her daughter was “vivacious” and “loved life and was a lot of fun to be around.”

“She was very loyal and you could always depend on her,” said Chris, who was five years younger than Gretchen and of whom she was said to be “protective” at times.

Gretchen Dater Art Week, her mother said, “keeps her memory alive and educates our future leaders about terrorism.”

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“A Day in Clay” with Artist In Residence Cliff Mendelson at NRHS


NRHS pic

As part of an artist-in-residence program at New Rochelle high school, students had the opportunity to observe work of a professional artist, sculptor, potter Cliff Mendelson as he worked with clay in a ceramic art room at the school on wednesday, january 17.

“Through the magic of clay, everyone – from kids to corporate executives discovers how the art of clay crosses cultures and academic disciplines. Sometimes it is how a pot emerges from the wheel to a height of 3-feet, or it can be a simple hand-built mask or a pinch pot. We find that clay helps us tap that creative impulse that raises the ordinary to the extraordinary”, explains Cliff Mendelson. The artist is also an alumnus of NRHS.

Artist Cliff Mendelson shares his expertise and talent as he demonstrated the art of creating pottery on a wheel. Students enjoyed learning about the process and effort involved in creating ceramic pieces and gained and appreciation for the skill involved  to  make  any  work  of art.  Through this presentation, students witnessed an artisan who succeeds at what he enjoys most, which is also his life’s work.

Students observed the artist create original works of art in an atmosphere that fosters inquiry, and involvement. Conversation and dialog are encouraged in light of how design (form and function) are an integral part of the creative process. Students received personal instruction as well.

Students felt inspired as a result of the hands on demonstrations of Cliff Mendelson and the ceramic works in progress.

Supervisor of the music and arts dr. Domenic Guastaferro  adds,  “this artist-in- residence workshop empowered students with knowledge concerning how art is made and its connection to various cultures.   It provided a first hand experience involving a working craftsman and the original works that were created by using his imagination and skill.”

Samples   of   finished   works   were   discussed in light of the history of art in various cultures and how its applications are alive in the world today, particularly with Native American, Greek, and Asian influence.

A display, coordinated by NRHS art teacher Grace Fraioli, of the ceramic pieces, with photos taken during the workshop, will be on exhibit in the main lobby showcase.

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Molding little artists


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