Tonawanda News

April 26, 2014

Inspiring students to get creative

By Mia Summerson
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Martine Lepore sold her first work of art when she was in high school, where she used to do pencil drawings of her fellow students and sell them for $5 a piece. 

Since then she says she has created over a thousand pieces, mostly using oil paints but also in marble, ceramics and other media. In 2009, Jennifer Leone, an art teacher at Fletcher Elementary School in the City of Tonawanda, was at Lepore’s studio at Artisanworks in Rochester. Her collection “Human Safari” caught Leone’s interest.

“I liked that it was fresh, something different,” Leone said. “I liked her technique of pairing humans with animals with a lot of dripping, the loose painting. It inspired me to come up with a unit lesson for my classes, if you were an animal, which animal would you be?”

Leone noticed that when many of her students think of art they think of classical artists, from the past. She says she strives to teach children that contemporary artists are alive and well and still making art today. When one student asked if they could meet an artist, Leone got another idea. 

“I was asked to come in by Ms. Leone and give the students a presentation,” Lepore said. “(Doing something like) this encourages kids not to be stifled. If there’s a desire inside it can’t be stopped.”

Lepore dropped by Fletcher Elementary a bit before 2 p.m. on Friday afternoon. One student in each of Leone’s 13 art classes was selected to ask a question of Lepore about her life and her long career, which began at age five when she says she first realized that she was happiest when she was making art. 

Students asked all kinds of questions ranging from what her favorite foods are and which artists are her favorites. Other students wanted to know what happens when you make a mistake or don’t like the art you made. So she told them a story of a colleague who rescued a photo she had thrown away, put it in a frame and sold it. 

“I liked the story of the painting she threw away,” said fifth-grader Ava Scholz. “How even if you don’t like something, someone else might.”

Everyone gets frustrated, Lapore said. She believes the only way to get past it is to just keep going and work at it everyday. She tries not to believe in mistakes because sometimes, they turn out to be more beautiful than what you were originally trying to create. 

The staff at Fletcher say they are grateful to give the kids this opportunity. The importance of the arts is often forgotten and the programs are often the first thing on the table when it comes to budget cuts, which is a shame, according to Lepore. 

“I hope the kids take an appreciation for art from this,” said Fletcher Principal John McKenna, “It’s important to nurture everyone’s unique talents. These types of experiences are great for kids to see.” 

Lepore realizes that she is one of the lucky few who was able to turn her hobby into a career. She paints every single day and believes she will never be done learning. Her latest piece is a large canvas painting of the Italian city of Venice. 

“The presentation went well, the kids are great and I can tell they put a lot of thought into their questions,” Lepore said. “For any of the students that really have a passion for art, I hope this is a boost, something that inspires them to keep going.”

Contact reporter Mia Summerson at 693-1000, ext. 4313.