Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Spotlight On Mary Plaia

BFA New York Institute of Technology, Magna Cum Laude
Scholarship Recipient, Traphagen School of Fashion
Exhibitions in New York and Texas

Himba Tribesman
Pastel 18x24

Precious Moments, Oil on linen, 24" x 30

As I reflect on the early years that framed my life, as far back as kindergarten, at age 5, I was given three colors to work with red yellow, and blue.  My teacher noticed the swirly lines in my painting and yelled “Stop!” She then ran to the back of the room and added a black dot.  That dot was the eye that  declared it a "seahorse" and was  then  displayed in the auditorium for all to see.  All I can now recall was how proud my mom was and how she would always encourage me to continue my art. 
At eight years old, I was abducted by a stranger and threatened with a knife against my throat. I believe  my  faith enabled my escape, however, the trauma had a profound effect on my physical health, my faith, and my art! 
During one of my childhood hospital stays, a volunteer worker provided me with art material and worked with me. Her visits got me through each day and I will always be grateful for her encouragement.  In retrospect, I realized that early on, I learned that focusing on my art was constructive in filtering my pain into something positive which continues to give me a sense of accomplishment and joy today.
Coming from a family of limited financial resources and the oldest of four daughters, l chose a high school that was known to be progressive in the arts and therefore enabled  students to develop a portfolio worthy to qualify for art scholarships.
Around that time, I became aware of the changing times and challenges for women in the arts, in the workplace and in higher education. After high school my peers were planning their weddings . Back then the family mind set for some, was that their limited funds allotted for education, should go to the boys as opposed to the girls! 
My determination paid off when my portfolio was reviewed personally by the founder of the Traphagen School of Design  in N. Y. C . Ethel Traphagen was a renowned fashion illustrator who broke through many barriers for women when she and her husband William R. Leigh,  a famous sought after western painter, founded the pioneer design school in 1923. One year into my program, she passed away . 
That Scholarship had an impact on my life.  It was such an honor when I was asked to remain on to teach there on a daily basis.  During my tenure of nearly two decades, I served in many capacities, including assistant director.
The beginner's  curriculum enforced the importance of anatomy, figure drawing, line quality, values, color theory, painting, dressmaker details and fabric renderings. Those basics were essential in developing their designs and elongated and stylized figures in illustrations.  At that time,  I did not realize how those fundamentals are also applied to figurative and portraiture paintings.  
Although there were times that I had to put "my me" time and creative impulses on hold, every chance I got I would work in my art studio. My favorite subject matter was painting my children in their growing up years.  I was also privileged to work in groups  with many talented artists. 
With the rising cost of tuition, this juggling act enabled me to afford to send my two daughters to college. Today I am proud to say that currently in their forties they are accomplished in their careers while raising their children. 
As I reflect on pivotal moments in my life that inspired me to choose an art career, I know that it was never about acquiring status or wealth. Like my mother, who got her GED when I was in my forties, I always had a lust for learning and accomplishment.  Ironically, I too returned to school when my 18 year old started college.  I graduated Magna Cum Laude with my BFA from New York Institute of Technology majoring in the professional teaching program.  I guess mothers tend to lead by example.  More importantly, mentoring gave me the opportunity to share my passion and joy. I was blessed with the positive reinforcements and support l received from mentors, family and friends. I believe with strong faith and a sense of self we can overcome our limitations!

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