Creativity On Display At Mixed Media Exhibition In Ocean County

Timothy Welch took up art after Parkinson’s Disease ended his career as a chef (Photo by Stephanie A. Faughnan)

  TOMS RIVER – Local artists proved a few things at TRAC’s recent Summer Arts Fest. Beauty is not only in the eyes of the beholder but also in the visions of those who create it.

  The Arts Fest set up in downtown Toms River showcased more than 25 separate mixed media exhibitions. According to Lisa Cifaretto, who heads up Toms River Arts Community (TRAC), Keith Cheek from South Toms River Elementary had difficulty ranking the artists.

  A first-place award went to Steve Schreiber, second place, MJ Torres of Craft & Carry Custom, and third place to Cifaretto, herself, of Small Town Arts, Toms River. In addition, honorable mentions were awarded to Donna Mertz, Ted Wallen and Maria Longo.

More than 24 separate artists set up for TRAC’s Summer Arts Fest in downtown Toms River (Photo by Stephanie A. Faughnan)

  Without a doubt, those who participated in the Summer Arts Fest were all winners. While many of the creators put their talents to use from an early age, some admitted it took years for their inspiration to manifest in actual form.

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  Timothy G. Welch, 57, said he and his wife relocated from the Cooperstown, NY area to Whiting last year. A former chef, Welch received a diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease when he was just 43 years old.

  “I couldn’t be a chef anymore because tremors and sharp knives really don’t go well,” Welch shared. “I got my teaching certificate, and I was teaching an art class one day and did a picture with the kids.”

  Welch said that it surprised him that his picture turned out “pretty good” and decided to take up painting and drawing. He started with paper painting before deciding to move to canvas – focusing on beach scenes and landscapes.

  “Sometimes, when I was tremoring, I just took a little fan brush and let it hit the canvas,” said Welch. “I couldn’t be more random if I wanted to.”

  Welch self-published what he calls an auto-biographical book that contains his artwork. He donates a portion of his proceeds to the Parkinson’s Foundation to support research, saying that one never knows if that last dollar might be the one that turned the tide.

  Mary Irvington of Forked River displayed handcrafted stained-glass jewelry at the show, in addition to beautifully designed sculptures. The depiction of an older man with two small children came with a special story.

  Irvington said her late father always encouraged her to pursue her talents. When Irvington dreamt of her dad with her kids, she came up with the idea to sculpt them together.

  Taffy and Jim Spaloss of Forked River both enjoy art from different perspectives. Taffy said her husband saw her interest in quilting and gave her the tools to start her craft.

  “He bought me a course about 12 years ago,” said Taffy. “I’ve been doing it ever since.”

  Remarkably, the quilts Taffy had on display at the Art Fest all told a tale of their own. One piece was a collage of photographs, while others featured signs of nature.

Taffy and Jim Spaloss (Photo by Stephanie A. Faughnan)

  Jim said he decided to take up glassmaking after years of doing stained glass. He became intrigued with glassmaking after a trip to Wheaton Village in Millville.

  “There was a lady making marbles on a torch,” Jim shared. “I now have a torch in my basement where I use different techniques to melt the glass and make different things.”

  Taffy proudly showed off one example of Jim’s work of a flower encapsulated in a small round glass ball. She explained that Jim also crafted the tiny colorful glass bloom before encasing it.

  Cifaretto, the event organizer, had her own work on display at the Arts Fest. An assortment of what might otherwise be plain wooden cutting boards contained exciting splashes of color. Cifaretto described the process of creating the unique pieces.

  “If I buy a cutting board, I sand them down three levels, and I seal in between each level,” explained Cifaretto explained. “When the sealant’s dried for 24 hours, I mix the resin and add little cups of different colors. I get the wave effects using a heat gun and then torch them to get the cells.”

  All of the cutting boards are 100 percent food safe, including the surfaces covered by the resin, pigments, dyes and oils.

Lisa Cifaretto’s cleverly designed cutting boards are not only beautiful; they’re all food safe (Photo by Stephanie A. Faughnan)

  In addition to her own art form, Cifaretto considers TRAC itself dear to her heart. She joined the organization about four years ago when there were only eleven members – seven were board members.

  “Today we have 91 members,” Cifaretto said. “TRAC is really about the children in this community. One of the big things we did with them is the mural on Iron Street.”

  “We did that through COVID with 285 kids from town,” continued Cifaretto. “We did it with families and individual shops when they were closed.”

  TRAC is also doing a special project for “Make a Wish” this year and continues to focus on keeping art alive with various events. Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea exhibits TRAC artists’ work, while there’s an Artwalk on Main Street on the first Wednesday of every month.

Photo by Stephanie A. Faughnan

  Regarding this year’s ArtFest, Cifaretto felt it was important to express gratitude to some of the people who helped with the event.

  “My thanks to Judy Calderone-Favia for all her hard work and a great raffle basket,” said Cifaretto. “I’d also like to thank the Grunin Foundation publicly for their gracious donation of prize money for the art contest.”