When Shari Schwarz took the stage last month at the Emelin Theatre in Mamaroneck, partly it was to accept LMC-TV’s Best New Series award for her fledgling show, Shari’s Art Class.
It also celebrated another milestone: twenty years of painting with the four women who produce her show — Kelly Anastos, Nan Corbin, Carmen Navarra, and Bolly Newquist.
The group meets every Wednesday with Ms. Schwarz as their teacher.
“They’re my family,” says Ms. Schwarz. “We’ve been with each other through every part of our lives. I haven’t made a decision in the last twenty years without them.”
Says Ms. Anastos, a former elementary school teacher and wife of Fox 5 news anchor Ernie Anastos, “This group of talented women love learning and constantly inspire me. What more can you ask for?”
Getting together, they support each other— which is how the show was created.
A Show is Born
The group sits in Nan Corbin’s airy Larchmont living room — on a Wednesday – and their story unfolds. They recall how Ms. Schwarz had been downhearted about retiring after 37 years teaching art and special education in an East Harlem public school.
“While Shari was in Aruba on vacation, we met to think of the highest best ideas to help her move forward,” says Ms. Newquist, who at 84 is the eldest in a group that’s otherwise in their early sixties. “Shari is such a great teacher, so flamboyant and outgoing and photogenic, we decided she should be on television.”
Ms. Corbin, a professional calligrapher, explains, “We thought it was important to share her talents with a wider audience.”
Before she retired, Ms. Schwarz won four teacher-of-the-year awards.
Ms. Newquist phoned Ms. Schwarz, told her to sit down, that they’d met with LMC-TV executives and lined up a show for her to star in. “None of us had TV experience,” says Ms. Newquist. “But we’re five intelligent women and I knew we’d figure it out.”
They began producing shows last summer. The first one aired in November.
On the show, Ms. Schwarz paints at a desk, with clear, step-by-step instruction and close-ups. Themes include how to create her signature rose or how to paint in the style of Monet. Each thirty-minute program requires planning that sometimes takes the place of weekly painting sessions.
Ms. Navarra is the editor, Ms. Anastos is the floor manager, Ms. Newquist is in charge of the time lapse photography, and Ms. Corbin handles production and public relations.
Art Store Meeting Ground
The five met at A I Friedman art store in Port Chester in 1989, in a decorative painting class. Only Ms. Anastos and Ms. Corbin were already friends, having met when their sons were in kindergarten at Murray Avenue Elementary School.
When the class ended, Ms. Newquist invited all thirty to continue at her house with Ms. Schwarz teaching. The group distilled to five.
“We’re a diverse group,” says Ms. Navarra, a Buddist whose heritage is Puerto Rican. She’s had an executive assistant career and now works at George Washington Carver Community Center in Norwalk, where she lives. Ms. Anastos is Greek, Ms. Schwarz and Ms. Corbin are Jewish. Says Ms. Newquist, “They call me the WASP.”
Wednesday classes can run from four o’clock to six or seven in the evening, then the group goes out to dinner.
Secret of Success
Part of the harmony comes from each person having a full life outside the group, and sharing a high regard for art and friendship.
Says Ms. Navarra, “To maintain the camaraderie, we make it a constant, permanent part of our lives that we meet every week.“
“I think it takes respect, honesty and love – love above all,” observes Ms. Anastos. “If anyone is ever stuck, there’s always an answer in this group.”
Ms. Schwarz, who taught using her maiden name, says, “My students used to say, ‘Yo, Ms. Miller, we have your back.’ These women have my back and my heart.”
They pop a DVD into the TV to review a program, with Ms. Schwarz on screen using three graceful brush strokes to form a rose. The room is transfixed.
“When Shari teaches, it’s like watching ballet,” says Ms. Corbin. “After 20 years, we still watch her.”
Katherine Ann Samon is Business Editor of Larchmont Gazette. Contact her at www.katherineannsamon.com