Family Pictures

W hen Joanne Paone-Gill looks at a butterfly or a bouquet or a beagle or a boat, she sees them in terms of pencil sketches and watercolor paintings and works of stained glass.

A Westvillager for forty years, her Marvelwood Drive home pays homage to such ways of seeing, and to her unusually creative family. Passing through the house’s inner front door—with its ornate pattern of blue and clear, beveled and textured glass crafted by Joanne herself—it soon becomes obvious you’ve crossed some kind of threshold, into a world framed by art.

Because everywhere you look, frames are in the frame. Paintings and drawings and photos (plus sculptures), most of them ably crafted by someone in the family, populate the kitchen, the dining room, the living room, the parlor.

sponsored by

New Haven Public Schools of Choice - Citywide School Fair

Explaining the origins of her own relentless impulse to create, Joanne cites her mother’s can-do attitude and encouragement, her father’s work ethic and her extended family’s musical Sunday afternoon get-togethers. In grade school, she’d spend hours drawing Archie and Veronica from her favorite comic, watching her uncle draw alphabet people and helping her dad organize the fruit and vegetable displays at his grocery store. In seventh grade, she and older sister Terry and a friend named Carol created a singing group, The Embers—think the McGuire Sisters or the Andrews Sisters, she says—and were good enough that legendary label Decca Records offered them a contract in high school. Her parents told Decca to come back after the girls finished college.

Over the years, she’s learned to sing in other ways, like jewelry-making, fabrication, three-dimensional macramé, layered stained glass, poetry and food writing. (See more of her work here.)

A recent art show at the Orange Town Hall, organized by the Orange Arts and Culture Council, featured both her and her family’s work. Michael, Joanne’s husband of 24 years, is a gifted sculptor and avid photographer. A retired psychologist, he now has more time to “dabble in my hobbies”—though he still managed to pursue them during his career, which is lucky, because it was a sculpture class where he met Joanne. In the basement workshop he and his wife share, his side is filled with the trappings of metalworking: metal sheets, protective masks, bright-colored metal canisters for containing flammables. He recently produced a steel eagle, with rods for bones and shards for feathers, which now hangs in the living room. In the next room is a wiry human head sculpture, like C3PO with cornrows.

Joanne’s sister Rosalind Rascati Casey of New Haven is the illustrator of the family. She says she’s fascinated by cartoons and has been drawing “as far back as I can remember.” Using pencils, crayons, watercolors and colored pencils, her favorite topics include giraffes and elephants, portraits of her grandchildren and pen-and-ink drawings of houses for Raveis. She considers portraits the most challenging, due in part to the emotional investment subjects have in the way their images turn out.

For sister Terry Rascati Russo of North Haven, retiring after forty years in the real estate business has afforded the time to return to artistic pursuits she’d left behind: clay sculpture, watercolors, acrylics, photography. “My close family, so rare and wonderful, made sure I grew up surrounded by art and music. Now I want to do all the various outlets and I can’t narrow it down.” A love of watery nature—she’s a boater and a sailor—inspires some of her work, as she tries to capture the sea’s moods and personalities. Lately, Terry has rushed back to her art “full-tilt;” she thinks she’ll try her hand at bronze-working next.

Mike’s daughter Lena Smith Parker focuses her art on her three children, creating story books “driven by a kid’s point of view.” A book called Story Store centers on a boy forced to go to a thrift shop with his mom, who makes up stories about the objects he sees there, like a Hawaiian shirt and a pair of boots. In her photography, too, Lena also likes to capture the perspective of a child, taking pictures of “Matchbox cars as a kid sees them,” and snapping photos of her children at the beach or swim meets where they’re “goofy, demanding, ridiculous and great.”

Talking about her stories reminded Lena of the ones her dad used to make up, including the adventures of “The Fox, the Mule and the Skunk,” who drove around together in a truck. The clever fox navigated; the simple mule held the wheel; and the near-sighted skunk worked the pedals.

Like a family, they needed each other, and like Joanne and kin, it was imagination and creativity that drove them.

Written by Bonnie Goldberg. Photographed by Dan Mims.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

By day, Bonnie sells life insurance and financial products at her Woodbridge office. By night, she attends theater and writes reviews for the Middletown Press and her blog, which is partnered up with the New Haven Register. A reviewer for 25 years, she’s been a correspondent for the Middletown Press for the past 12. When the curtains go up, she loves being in the front row.

Leave a Reply