AN INTERVIEW WITH FELICIA ZAVARELLA STADELMAN
When and how did you become interested in art?
As far back as I can remember I have always had an interest in Art. I attended an “open school” (similar to Montessori) in Cleveland in my elementary school years and art was a big part of our curriculum. My first exposure to Art History began there – in third grade! The Cleveland schools were immersed in a more progressive approach to education. Music and art were be integrated into all of our subjects. My mother and my grandmother were also very creative. We spent many hours painting, sewing and doing all kinds of crafts. Every year my mother and I painted murals on my bedroom walls – and when I was old enough, I was allowed to plan and paint my own masterpiece for my room! My grandfather was a carpenter, and he made me an easel when I was in 6th grade. My parents bought me a drafting table, that I still use today, complete with an art supply cabinet that was always fully stocked – I was hooked! I won many awards in high school and was selected to exhibit my artwork at the youth art shows at the Cleveland Museum of Art. The Art program in the Mayfield school system was remarkable. We were introduced to many of the artists in the Cleveland Art scene and worked closely with the local studios. I learned so much from the hands on experience we had with the local artists. A few of us were even chosen to write articles for the Art section of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
How did your love of art/art history develop?
After graduating High School, my parents arranged a trip to Italy with my aunt. I researched all of the famous works of art that we might have an opportunity to see in hopes that if I proved that I had done my homework, we might be allowed to visit all the places I had dreamed of seeing. Standing in front of Michelangelo’s David in Florence brought tears to my eyes. I knew right then and there that the spirit of the artists moved me in a way that I had never imagined. Reading his letters, journals and sonnets inspired me to learn more about the passion of this incredibly gifted sculptor. It was the beginning of a lifelong enthusiasm for the artist and the story behind the works of art.
Tell us a little about your education.
I immediately changed my major from Commercial Art to Art History. I took all the classes that I could to satisfy my insatiable curiosity. The curriculum back then was limited. The lectures left me wanting more. After 6 years I didn’t feel that I knew enough about the artists’ feelings or personalities. I could spew out every fact about their work and place it in time, but I didn’t know what was in their hearts, what made them tick. I began searching for more information on the lives of the artists. I discovered letters and journals from my favorite artists. As I read through the words written by the artists themselves, I realized that what was being passed off as art education was really incomplete. Many of my Art History textbooks didn’t even mention some of the most influential artists for their time. I searched for articles written about the masters. There were layers of details I had yet to unravel. It was all so exciting. Their stories were starting to unfold. The letters and journals offered slivers of the lives, loves, and longings of the artists Iadmired. They held a different kind of appeal and hold on me, and shed new light into the hearts and minds of some of our cultural icons.
I combined my studies with studio art, calligraphy, stained glass, and eventually started a graphics art business. After graduation I got involved in the Computer Graphics Industry and worked in that field for about 15 years. Throughout the years, I continued to research the artists’ biographies.
Where did it all begin?
I started “Through the Eyes of the Artist” over 20 years ago. It was originally funded by a grant from the Cleveland Museum of Art to help bring art into the lives of school children. The program was designed for children in grades K- 4, but “Through the Eyes of the Artist” eventually evolved into a lecture program for people of all ages interested in uncovering the fascinating details of the lives and works of some of our most renowned and influential artists.
For the past 20 years, I have trained over 400 Art Docents, and delivered art history lectures in schools, libraries and community education centers in the Cleveland area. After we were transferred to the East Coast, I expanded the program into the Rhode Island and Massachusetts communities where we lived for 3 years.
I believe that it is only by learning about the artists that we can begin to understand the meaning that is communicated to us through their artwork. And through this discovery, we get an insight into the experience of human existence, we realize that we share a common thread, identify with the artist, and appreciate even more the value of their work. Every work of art is incomplete in itself. When we enjoy art, we extend it. We improve it. And we make it our own. I hope I can inspire you to enjoy art even more.