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Watercolors By The Water

Long Island artist to showcase paintings at library

Charlene Schwartz Kalin’s house looks like any other suburban home on the surface with a well-kept lawn, a glass front door and dogs that bark when someone rings the doorbell. However, while sitting on her white living room couch surrounded by boxes full of paintings and picture frames, it’s clear that the room is also somewhat of an art studio.

In one of these cases is a pile of vibrant watercolor paintings that are waiting to be displayed at the Garden City Public Library starting on June 3 and will remain there until June 28. It will be Schwartz Kalin’s first solo exhibit.

“Life Around Us” is a collection of paintings containing subjects ranging from architecture to shoes, flowers to dogs and cracked eggs to sailboats. It is a little bit of everything, Schwartz Kalin claims.

“I think it will make people happy,” she said.

Schwartz Kalin, who is in her 60s, has been painting her entire life and said she often has trouble labeling her work with a specific genre or themes. In general, she said, her art emanates a positive outlook on life and this exhibit is no exception.

“It’s funny,” Schwartz Kalin said. “People look for meaning in paintings and sometimes artists are darker than me. What comes out [of my work] is a joyfulness about painting like creating; there’s a joyfulness in it and there’s nothing dark.”

Schwartz Kalin said Barbara Minerd, a public relations consultant for the Friends of the Library, the exhibit’s sponsor, contacted her.

Minerd, who is also an associate professor of drawing at Farmingdale State College, said she first saw Schwartz Kalin’s work when she was a judge at Farmingdale’s “Art in the Park” and thought her work would be a nice addition to the library.

“I felt that she had a very fresh style and [was] very colorful,” Minerd said in a phone interview. “She was a pleasure to work with.”

Schwartz Kalin attended the Fashion Institute of Technology and holds an associate degree in commercial art from a New York City Community College, she said. In 1965 she said she also received a scholarship to the Brooklyn Museum School of Fine Arts. She was born in Wyoming but grew up in Brooklyn, she said.

She is now a member of the Art League of Nassau County and the National Art League, Schwartz Kalin said.

Her first acknowledged work was a drawing of an eskimo and a dog she made in kindergarten, which she still has, Schwartz Kalin said.

“I was either going to be an artist or a ballerina,” she said bursting into laughter. “I don’t know. Art just makes me happy.”

She said she would draw everything she saw as a child, but what she thought was just play became more of a passion when she was put into special art classes.

Soon enough, Schwartz Kalin began painting the backdrops and scenery for school productions and teaching art as a summer camp counselor, she said.

“It just comes naturally,” Schwartz Kalin said. “I can draw anything. God gives people gifts and he gave me something. Am I a genius? No, I’m not. But people seem to like what I do.”

Schwartz Kalin said she worked in her father’s insurance business but although she liked the work, it just was not fulfilling her aspirations as an artist.

“If your desire or need is money, be a doctor first and then be an artist,” she said, “Because art will fill you up in here, inside.”

As a professional artist, Schwartz Kalin said she worked at an advertising agency before opening her own business, Sunflower Studios, in Manhattan, but decided to close it after a few years because she wanted to settle down and raise a family.

Her work has evolved over the decades, she explained, since she started painting with oils but moved onto acrylics before taking on watercolors, which she said are the most challenging to work with.

Schwartz Kalin said she inspired by other artists, such as Marc Josloff, her current teacher at the National Art League. However, she considers artist Ellen Hoyt to be her watercolor mentor.

Hoyt said she has known Schwartz Kalin for 20 years and was her teacher for 17 years and was her “prized student.”

“I like it a lot,” Hoyt said when asked about Schwartz Kalin’s work in a phone interview. “I like her subject matter. She thinks about it carefully and she does her best to put it down how she feels.”

Schwartz Kalin, who has received awards for her art in the past, said she mainly paints on Wednesdays now with the National Art League in Douglaston, although she is often found making strokes on canvas under the skylight in her kitchen.

“Especially at my age, to be able to just go on vacation whenever I paint; I don’t have to think,” she said. “It’s a wonderful feeling. It’s rejuvenating. It’s very rejuvenating.”

“Life Around Us” will be on display at the Garden City Public Library from June 3 until June 28.