Tonawanda News — Talking with Thomas Insana, Angelo F. LaDuca and Marilyn Wilson is a little like being invited to sit in on a family dinner where the attendees share childhood stories, laugh, talk over one another and — unlike perhaps many families — effusively compliment one another.
It’s no surprise these Grand Island residents are cousins, who not only live on the same island together as adults, but grew up within just a few houses of one another on Pierce Avenue in Niagara Falls.
What is perhaps surprising is that all three are artists after making careers for themselves in other fields — Insana was a biology teacher, LaDuca was a lawyer and Wilson was an art teacher. After rediscovering — or in Wilson’s case, expanding — an interest in art later in life, the three are having their first joint art show together at Partners in Art in North Tonawanda.
The Three Cousins Art Show is ongoing through Aug. 23 and includes an artists’ reception 1:30-4 p.m. Saturday.
Viewers can expect to see just about everything at the show because with these three cousins, you get three very different cousins.
LaDuca describes their techniques succinctly.
“Marilyn is very creative, Tom is very precise and I just perserve,” he said as the three burst into laughter.
Perhaps giving LaDuca the label of “the student” or “the mastermind” is more appropriate. It was his idea to form this triumvirate of family artistry, after all.
The three cousins came from a family that, while not actively participating in the art world, had a strong appreciation for creativity.
LaDuca’s father, Insana’s mother and Wilson’s father were siblings and the only true artist in the family as the cousins were growing up was Wilson’s mother.
“She was very artistic and I always admired her beautiful work,” LaDuca said of his aunt.
But the cousins all had artistic aspirations. Wilson went to college and studied art education — an opportunity her mother never got — Insana had a fleeting interest in medical illustrations, but ultimately got a biology degree and LaDuca chose a law degree over one in architecture.
Wilson had the closest connection to the art world throughout a 33-year career teaching art in Buffalo public schools and later teaching art history and mentoring student teachers at Buffalo State College. Still, she wasn’t exactly prolific as a creator at the time.
“When you’re teaching art it’s just a full-time job. You want to do art and you have all these ideas but you really don’t have time to do it for yourself,” Wilson said.
Taking the gig at Buffalo State gave her new outlook, though.
“I thought, ‘You know, it’s time for me to be an artist now.’ It was the right time for me to be an artist ... I got interested in people and history and documenting who we are, what we leave behind, the things we’re remembered by.”
So Wilson began what she calls her Femme Fatale series, which is on display in the Three Cousins show. The small mixed-media pieces are portraits of famous women from history — like Jackie Kennedy, Tokyo Rose and Cleopatra — and included on the artwork is a removable pin the buyer of the piece can wear. The back of the decorative pin is also painted.
“The back of the pin is the real story and that I keep hidden. It’s the heirloom piece (the women) would leave behind but the story is in the imagery,” she said.
While Wilson’s artwork might be more imaginative or surreal, Insana and LaDuca have a greater interest in the old masters and realism.
LaDuca began taking classes at Partners in Art more than six years ago, but quickly realized that as one of the few men studying there, he wanted to bring his male cousin in as well.
LaDuca said that unlike many famous artists, most people won’t be able to identify his paintings by style alone, because he likes to study and perfect the technique of lots of different artists and techniques.
“When I see an artist I like I’ll do a lot of reading on them. I have a library of books completely underlined,” he said of his method. “It challenges me to try to immulate someone I respect as a great artist.”
His next venture, he said, is sculpture portraits, for which he plans to travel to Arizona to take classes with a sculptor he admires.
Insana also likes to copy other artists — the old masters are his favorite — but he sees himself as someone who is still learning.
“I have to develop my own style and Marilyn has been helping me break out into new areas,” he said. “This has been a good collaboration because I’m still on my journey.”
His biggest challenge, he said, is learning to look at the world differently. He considers himself a left-brain thinker, one who’s more attuned to scientific or mathematic thought. LaDuca said Insana is too much of a perfectionist.
“I like pastels,” Insana said. “They’re really neat to work with, but a pastel doesn’t have a point, they’re flat. You think, ‘How am I ever going to get an edge.’ I need precision!”
“But amazingly, when you get into it and solve the problem ... painting is really problem solving. You really don’t draw figures or faces, you look at light, you look at dark and contrast,” he added.
Ultimately, LaDuca said more than the learning and exploring the three have done recently, it’s their reunited relationships that have been the biggest benefit of their interest in art.
“We have really enjoyed the bond in recent years. In your lifetime you get so busy ... this art has brought us back together. This is our first collaboration for a show, but we’ve really enjoyed the camaraderie of what we had when we were children,” he said.
Contact Sunday Lifestyle editor Danielle Haynes at 693-1000, ext. 4116 or follow her on Twitter at @DanielleHaynes1.IF YOU GO • WHAT: Three Cousins Art Show by Angelo F. LaDuca, Thomas Insana and Marilyn Wilson • WHEN: Through Aug. 23; artists' reception 1:30-4 p.m. Saturday • WHERE: Partners in Art Gallery, 74 Webster St., North Tonawanda • MORE INFORMATION: Call 773-2888