Straube Center in the News

Roberta DeSantis says 'everyone is an artist'

January 11 , 2007
By John Tredrea, Staff Writer
Press Release

Artist teaches classes at Cambridge School in Pennington

Roberta DeSantis with two of her oil paintings.

A prolific and talented oil painter, 25-year-old Roberta DeSantis is a hard-working art teacher as well.

She teaches over 20 classes a week at the Cambridge School in Pennington. The school, in recently completed new quarters in the Straube Center, primarily serves "students with language-based learning differences," Ms. DeSantis said.

On the wall of her classroom is a sign that says: "Everyone is an artist."

"I really believe that," she said. "Being an artist is like being anything else. As long as you're doing it, you are one."

Key to being able to keep doing is remembering to stay receptive to ideas for new work. Looking through some old black and white family photographs at her aunt's house in Staten Island last year inspired a group of powerful oil paintings, also done in black and white. They were shown at the Straube Center several months ago, when a new building was opened, and will be shown again soon at the Julia Music School on Staten Island, where Ms. DeSantis grew up and still has family.

One of these paintings is a charming, forceful full-length portrait of her grandfather, John Anwetta, standing casually with his hands in his pockets looking at the camera. Behind him is the foundation and siding of a building.

"That's probably the front of the house he grew up in, in Bayonne," Ms. DeSantis said. "I think the photo I worked from was taken during World War II."

Mr. Anwetta served in the war, and another painting, done from a photo taken behind him, shows him carrying a young child in each arm-- "my aunt and uncle," Ms. DeSantis said - while watching the Memorial Day Parade in the early 1950s.

"When I did that picture, I wanted to make the viewer feel like they were really standing right behind my grandfather," she said. "That's the goal, for me, of every picture - to make the viewer feel like they're there. Georgia O'Keefe's paintings have that quality. I like so many artists that I can't really say I have favorites, but the way she makes flowers so real is the kind of thing I strive for. When you look at her flowers, you feel like you're there with them."

Ms. DeSantis, who now lives in Spring Lake, has been making pictures longer than she can recall. "Ever since I was very young," she said. "I can't remember not doing it."

She got a bachelor's degree in elementary education and fine arts from Rider University after finishing her associate's degree at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City.

Art from all over the world is a classroom resource and wellspring of new ideas. "In class, we've dealt with art from Hawaii, Alaska, Africa - everywhere, really," she said. "Cave art, too."

Photographs a friend took in Ghana inspired several brilliantly colored oil paintings. One is of a young boy sporting a world-class smile. Pointing to the youth's left shoulder at the bottom of the picture, Ms. DeSantis noted the top of a large hole worn through his threadbare, collarless shirt, which really looked more like a discarded sack than a shirt. "There was another big hole in it, too, in the part of the shirt I left out of the picture," she said.

"To be able to smile with such joy when you have so few material things, to me, said a lot. That smile just knocked me out. Who isn't motivated by someone's smile? Especially a smile like that from circumstances like that?" she asked.

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