EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Brett Vitale, of Tuckahoe, is an accidental artist of sorts.
A welder by trade, Vitale first began to apply his skills a few years ago to create metal sculptures for his mother, an avid gardener.
“Seeing the things she puts in her garden got me to start making presents for her. So it all started with Mother's Day presents and Christmas presents,” the 32-year-old said. “But I fell in love with doing it, and I realized that there was so much waste in the world. And if someone like me could take that waste and turn it into value, there’s really a market for it.”
Now, Vitale picks up scrap metal and other discarded pieces of hardware and welds them together to make both abstract and concept sculptures. He has worked on commissioned pieces for private clients and businesses and will display his work in a two-day outdoor natural art exhibit in Egg Harbor Township on Sept. 8-9.
Sponsored by the township’s Environmental Commission, the exhibit is scheduled from 4-7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 8, and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 9, at the Egg Harbor Township Nature Reserve Arboretum, 18 School House Road.
Vitale will be joined by his muse, his mother, Sharon James Vitale, 64, who in addition to her gardening talents is now an artist as well. She will display her pottery and birdhouses.
After the Egg Harbor Township resident retired from teaching physical education at Mainland Regional High School about 10 years ago, his mother decided to give art a try.
“After 30 years of bouncing balls and screaming kids, I wanted to do something quiet, meditative,” Sharon said. She decided to try painting, but after she found that it wasn’t quite her speed, she turned to pottery, which turned out to be a natural fit.
“I always loved my hands in the soil, and I also love the practicality of using the art,” said Sharon, who grew up living on a dairy farm in the Catskill Mountains in New York. Her upbringing and the concept of living off the land stuck with her, and she applies them to her artwork.
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“That passion and that value is what I have always implemented here,” she said. “We are huge repurposers and recyclers, and we don’t throw much away.”
A few years into her new passion, she has produced countless pieces as gifts and fundraisers for charities. Her collection includes mugs, candle holders and dishes. Outside, her gardens are dotted with ceramic birdbaths she has made as well as several birdhouses she has made with recycled wood and other materials. Pieces from both sets of collections will be on display at the exhibit.
The Vitales will join about 26 other experienced and beginning artists at the exhibit, now in its second year.
The exhibit includes artists Jessica Farley, Nicole Kirkos, Priya Patel, Ann D. Wetzel, Karena DeStefano, Ann Miller, Kathryn Biddle–Dutton, Sophia Lorenzi, Ruth Bye, Meghan M. Kolk, Carol A. Costabile, Shelley Cohen, Frances Adamo and several youth artists.
According to Bye, one of the organizers of the event who also will exhibit her paintings, the outdoor setting holds many benefits.
“The idea behind the outdoor art exhibit comes from the fact that many published studies indicate that art can improve quality of life and be a happiness booster,” Bye said. “Secondly, there is the idea of getting a little green in your life by spending time outdoors. Mix the two together and let the EHT Nature Reserve and Arboretum of Egg Harbor Township be the canvas, and a beautiful picture unfolds.”
Nick Fasola, another member of the commission, said the Natural Art Exhibit links together art, nature and community in one of the township’s most beautiful spaces, one some residents may not have had a reason to explore before.
“The exhibit is an excellent opportunity to visit and tour the Great Egg Harbor Township Nature Reserve,” said Fasola.
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Nature and art are intertwined, Bye said.
“The artists understand that kind of partnership in what they create,” she said. “Drawings, paintings, sketches, pottery, woodwork, jewelry, abstracts, sculpture and photography: All are wonderful ways to express a message about nature.”