The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, October 1, 2004


Gleason Library exhibit appeals to children and adults alike

Deborah Santoro knows firsthand the importance of exposing children to art. When she was eight, her father took her to the Danforth Museum in Framingham.

"That really struck me as an early experience," said Santoro. Years later, the adult Santoro would exhibit her work at the Danforth, as well as in Cambridge, Westford and Acton. Today you can view her pieces at the Gleason Library through October 30.

Deborah Santoro stands in front of directions for the interactive display called "Muses" that she put together in the children's area of the Gleason Library. The artist hopes parents will work with their children here, and then take them to view the show. The children will discover many related elements from the interactive exhibit within the artist's pieces. (Photo by Anne Marie Brako)
The body of work in the show represents the interplay between the painting and collage mediums that Santoro has explored in the last seven years. There are paintings, there are collages, and there are pieces that combine both. The 18 works in the show range from $250 to $650. Despite her focus on the painting/collage continuum, Santoro finds her childhood memories continue to influence her as an artist. "I remember going to the New Bedford Whaling Museum and looking at one of those big paintings of the ocean and the sea," she said of a memory when she was about 12 years old. "It was at my level and I just went to touch it and a woman came up and said, 'No, no, no, you can't touch it!' But she could see that I loved it so she talked to me about it. And she said, 'If you love painting, you should try painting.' So then I did."

Santoro encourages children to touch her display on the second floor entitled: "Muses: A Children's Interactive Collage Exhibit." Visitors can add and move elements on the face of a huge magnetic board placed at ground level. Santoro received a grant from the Carlisle Cultural Council to put together this interactive exhibit for children.

Discovering collages

Santoro began her exploration in art with tempura paints in grade school. As a sophomore in high school, she won a scholarship at Phillips Academy for a summer session in studio art. "You lived, breathed, and slept art," she recalled with enthusiasm. That was the first time she worked with figures, and people still predominate in her work. In fact, two works in the show are collage portraits: one of her husband and one of herself.

Although she loved art, her family did not support her choice at the time and suggested she do something more practical. She started college and then worked as a nursing assistant at the Lahey Clinic, but something was missing in her life. She found her way back to art classes at Salem State, Montserrat College of Art, and the Massachusetts College of Art before earning a BA in Studio Art from Wellesley College in 1997.

At Wellesley, Santoro discovered collages. She participated in a fundraiser called "Paper Prayers" that raised money for a pediatric AIDS project in Boston by selling 4" x10" collages designed by artists. Santoro found she liked the freedom of using scraps of artwork, photographs, and a variety of other materials to create a finished piece. "It was a nice release from all the serious work you were supposed to be doing, to just play and do whatever you wanted," said Santoro. She loved it and was encouraged to use collage by a professor at college.

"After graduation, whenever I got stuck in my painting, I would make a collage version," she said, "and a lot of times I liked the collage better than the painting. Then I might make a painting with elements from the collage. I continue to work back and forth. I might make a figure drawing, then a collage, then a painting. Then I might take three figures, and make one big painting." Her finished pieces combine complex and colorful elements and ultimately each finished work "traverses a fine line between abstraction and representation," according to the artist.

Childhood theme resonates

Santoro currently works out of her studio at the home she and her husband Pete have made in Shirley, Massachusetts. She has an 18-month-old daughter, Anna, and is expecting her second child in January. Although oil paint is her preferred medium, she has been using acrylics to avoid exposure to unsafe solvents during her pregnancy.

Last spring Santoro taught a collage class at the Abraham Lincoln Elementary School in Lowell to children ranging from kindergarten through grade 4. She enjoys teaching, and hopes to do more in the future. In 2003, her work was selected and displayed in two juried shows: at the Concord Art Association and at the National Collage Society show in Cleveland, Ohio.

With a busy family life, Santoro manages to find about 10 hours a week in the studio. She divides that time equally between painting and collages. "Although I've received more positive responses on the collages, I've sold more paintings," said Santoro. Ironically, she sold her first piece at the Danforth Museum, the place that inspired her as a child.

Interact with the Artist — Meet Deborah Santoro at a reception on October 2 from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Gleason Library.

2004 The Carlisle Mosquito