A SPECIAL NJ DISCOVER SPOTLIGHT ON JERSEY STRONG: MEET MARIA SAVARESE: MOTHER, ARTIST, AND SURVIVOR. By Calvin Schwartz January 5, 2014
For some time I’ve been contemplating the notion of developing a series of articles for NJ Discover spotlighting people here in New Jersey who become unforgettable and indelible in my journey to define the energy source of Jersey strong. This is that first article.
So where did I meet Maria Savarese? At a local college art museum or bookstore on Route 18 or at a trendy Wi-Fi equipped coffee shop a few miles away from the bookstore? Actually we met on Facebook through the synchronicity and exigencies of social media; we probably had some of the same friends or perhaps Facebook nudged or poked one of us to friend the other. Well it happened; we friended and discovered; I like using the word ‘discover’ after all I write for NJ Discover. And there was Maria’s Facebook picture wall replete with her essence as a modern artist, young mother and breast cancer survivor.
Maria Savarese is a perfect spotlight personality. In our early days of friendship, strictly digital and fortified by our posts on Facebook walls, I began to notice her unique aura and zest for life. Her art intrigued. Exact chronology escapes me but after months of absorbing her art, suddenly one morning, we were talking on the phone; a logical inevitable extension of the phenomenon of Facebook friending. And more logical extensions; one morning Maria, Tara-Jean Vitale (my co-reporter at NJ Discover) and I were sitting at a diner in East Brunswick, coffee still steaming and eggs cooling, as our conversation took us deeply into Maria’s world of art and being a breast cancer survivor and how we could share her story; a perfect depiction of Jersey Strong. Then a few months ago, I visited her studio just as an autumn chill was heralding Halloween.
She mostly grew up in Old Bridge and lives in Spotswood now where her studio is located. Actually the studio is a converted detached garage. When she first saw the hundred year old property, weeds had overgrown everything but she sensed it was all perfect just as she heard a woman playing a guitar on the other side of bushes and vines; their young daughters would become friends. Several times during our interview, she said, “a child is living inside me.” I understood that it was energy, spirit and exuberance (and a hint of innocence) reflected in her art which surrounded me. I reminded her about a Facebook picture of herself standing on a fallen tree perhaps 40 feet above a ravine and asked if she was scared. “Not at all; it was fun. It’s life.” Then she said, “to beat cancer is a gift. And I live my life now with that gift.”
She was originally from Flushing, Queens and took art lessons when she was eight and tried being a gymnast. “My hands always had to be busy so I made a lot of doll’s clothes. And I always see something inherent in things.” Then I said, “I can easily see this energy inside you.” She added, “I made my prom dress in high school after I took sewing. It’s still hanging in my closet.”
Cut to adult times. Maria got a job working at the Flemington Craft Festival. “They helped me make jewelry, work with clay and ceramics. When I was at Brookdale College, I also learned pottery. And this summer I finally got my kiln.” Her smile is magic and effusive as she pointed, “my grandmother’s chest of draws is over there.” I commented on the vast array of materials and props in her studio. “Everything has a purpose. We should stop throwing things away. I’m like an environmental artist. I use things from the environment in my art which means I love to work in collages and mixed media.” Art drives her. She loves to bring families together, help children and make the world a better place. That certain smile persisted throughout our interview.
Maria talks about her daughter with more than pride; with amazement as her daughter reads and writes incessantly. “Emma is growing up.” Again her smile warmed the studio. I asked about her environmentalism. “I don’t use pesticides in my garden and love the Native American way of life.” Her work has appeared in an art exhibition in New Brunswick and in other galleries and has sold fast. A deep breath followed; a smile changed to introspection. “The main thing going forward for me is I’m looking for my art partner and looking for something different. And people are now finding me and my art.”
Maria recently started teaching at the Office of Aging in Spotswood. “I have a 90 year old student. “I work with clay with her and she loves it. I’m into give back and pay it forward and reaching into the community. I also worked at a camp last summer; the other end of the age spectrum.” During the winter she’ll be available for private lessons. I told her how much she inspires me just listening. “For a 38 year old young woman to be beat breast cancer and to have taken it on with such vigor and to continue expressing herself with art and to inspire her daughter is all so special to me.”
One of my favorite songs is ‘Reason to Believe.’ One of my reasons to believe in Maria’s art is a new expressive venture (more formal information after this article) called, “Grandma’s Purse.” Inventiveness and creativity came together in a stunning vision. As Maria explained to me, “What if a grandmother passes suddenly and the relatives are confronted with deep loss and a need to remember and remind. So they call me in and I learn and feel as much about the person as I can. Then I go through her purse (and wherever else) and retrieve personal and sensitive items. I go introspective and see things. I gather together pieces of a life. And it becomes a collage of loving personal memories of that Grandma.” I thought it all brilliant as people can commission Maria to create this art. Better yet, they get a chance to meet her as I have.
We walked around her yard. She loves animals. I think they love her. A group of squirrels were nearby. They’re regulars there. Her two small puppies greeted my shoes. I asked Maria what inspires; “Teaching, communicating, being in the moment when something triggers an idea. Working with senior citizens and young children,” “And what about your art goals?” “I would love my art to be understood and appreciated and for it to be in more current shows. It’s not about money but about being who you are and not afraid.” Maria also just finished learning to weld to broaden her reach as an artist. Back inside the studio she showed me her mixed media work, “Motherboard” which I loved and then a vintage functioning cash register brought over from her father’s restaurant in Greenwich Village. I could easily sense her passionate pride.
A particular painting kept catching my eye. I beheld a self-portrait of Maria; intense, contemplative and hypnotic; I wondered what she was thinking when she painted it. I forgot to ask her. I did ask if we could talk about her battle with breast cancer. “It started 2 ½ years ago when I discovered it. It was attacked aggressively in a month with surgery. And I beat it. There are lessons to be learned. You have to be diligent with your body. I was 35 years old. Who would have ever thought I was a candidate. But I know you have to take care of yourself. It’s a powerful lesson for my young daughter to be aware as she gets older.” It was a good time to ask who her life’s heroes are. “Ellen Degeneres; she represents strength, inspiration, life and change for so many people. Then she makes you smile and laugh as well.” My thought process told me that’s exactly what Maria Savarese does to people in her world; provide strength and inspiration. Kind of like a complete circle and a good place to shut off my reporter’s microphone/recorder.
What’s also important here is to provide all the contact information for Maria and her art.
Facebook: Maria Savarese(Mia)
Website: http://miaartonline.com/ Of course check this site out for a panoply of Maria’s art.
AND NOW HERE’S AN INTRODUCTION AND OFFERING OF MARIA’S “GRANDMA’S PURSE” COMMISSIONED ART. Yes you can commission her to create and preserve personal memories of loved ones.
A UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY TO COMMISSION AN ECLECTIC NEW JERSEY ARTIST TO CREATE ENDURING PERSONALIZED ART!
As a journalist covering art, (and music, environment and hunger) here in Central Jersey, I’ve had numerous opportunities to absorb the aura of local and global artists including yesterday’s wondrous discovery of Middlesex County artist, Maria Savarese.
I observed her passion to create multi-media art (she works in paint, pottery, collages and welding) which translates to expressions from deep within her spirited soul. When she showed me some of her introspective collages, one in particular called ‘Mother Board,’ our concentric circles of commonality came together. We talked for a long time in her studio. As a journalist, now enthralled with her art, zest for life, everything I saw in her studio and immediate world, I asked if she would ever consider doing special commissioned work on a limited basis. Maria then excitedly told me about her dream to create art which she called “Grandma’s Purse.” She went on to explain.
“Imagine a grandmother passing away and the family gathering very personal belongings, even items from her purse and then they contact me. We get together and I learn as much as I can about the loved one. I study their photographs and begin to feel and sense things. I talk to the family for a long time. It’s an in depth interview. With my feelings and sensibilities gathered and the loved one’s belongings, I can create a warm enduring collage or other artistic expression of tribute to their loved one. Of course, it’s time consuming and intricate. But it’s a precious loving way to preserve and enhance memories. So yes, I would entertain commissioned projects.”
I’ve done my journalistic due diligence writing about this extraordinary affordable opportunity to personally commission an artist, Maria Savarese, for family remembrances.
You can begin to feel and see the energy of Maria Savarese on Facebook and at her website. Give her a call or email.
Website: miaartonline.com you can friend Maria on Facebook: Maria Savarese Facebook: Mia Art
Phone: 732-353- 6681
Calvin Schwartz, writer, NJ Discover.com
December 30, 2013