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Meet Six of 365

High schooler and photographer Eli Dagostino has set a portrait-a-day goal for himself. His 365 Project turns the lens on a variety of Vineyarders, including these six subjects, presented here in pictures and words.

Motivating children through art
Pamela Benjamin

Pam Benjamin

Pam waxes rhapsodic about Sense of Wonder Creations, the not-for-profit art camp she established in 1991 in Vineyard Haven. “It brings together children, the environment, and humanitarian issues,” she says. “Everything that I’m passionate about.”

In the rustic studio adjoining the house she shares with her husband, boat designer/builder Nat Benjamin, Pam and her young students explore visual arts, theater, puppetry, music, creative writing, and film as vehicles for self-expression with a higher purpose. During summer camp programs and after-school art classes throughout the year, her students, ages six to eighteen, create artwork, sell it, and split the profits with charities such as UNICEF or foreign orphanages.

“They learn,” she continues, “about how one person can make a difference and not be discouraged, and how they can use their talents to make a difference and at the same time have fun!” And it doesn’t end at eighteen. Many of her aging-out campers continue with her training program, learning to become leaders and counselors.
 

Nick Thayer

Nick Thayer

A smile creeps into his voice at each mention of Nick’s grandkids. A teacher at Featherstone Center for the Arts in Oak Bluffs and an artist-in-residence at the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School in West Tisbury, Nick keeps paints and paper in his garage-cum-studio in Vineyard Haven for the three of his five grandchildren who visit often, but he doesn’t press.

“You really just want to have the stuff available,” he says, “and take those teachable moments. But the more you push it, the more they’ll fight it.” His laissez-faire policy seems to have the desired effect. “They love to come to the studio,” he says. “The last time they were here, we worked in clay.”

He’s also the kind of grandfather and father (of three grown children) who hangs onto the kids’ artistic creations. “I have a watercolor that my son painted when he was seven years old,” Nick says. “I have artwork that goes back forty years. I don’t have a ton of stuff that they made, but I do have key things that they did in their developmental years.”

Do they really do that from the Vineyard?
Angela Park-Sayles

Angela Park Sayles

Although this portrait expresses Angela’s elegant beauty, it can’t capture her voice. Clear as a bell, with a built-in smile and no discernible accent, it’s perfect for voice-over work. And that’s what she does for Audible and other companies that record spoken text.

After a varied career that included producing television shows for CNN in New York, technical writing for Yale University, and work as a motion-capture director and editor for a sports website, she’s landed on the Island with a job she can do at home in Vineyard Haven while raising her two young sons.

She used to travel to a New York studio to spill a novel into a microphone. Now she can do it from her couch. “It’s amazing. The technology has advanced so much that people can record on their own machines.”

Her producer sends manuscripts in the form of PDF files, and Angela is able to make notes and highlight directly on the computer during her pre-read, and she can find help online for foreign or technical words. “The one I just read had a lot of German in it,” she says. “You just Google it, literally, and there are online dictionaries that will give you the pronunciations.”

Herbert Foster

Herbert Foster

Now in his early eighties, Herb has come a long way from his first teaching experience: Back then, he spent most of the time hiding under his desk, dodging the airborne missiles of an inner-city classroom. His current students are themselves teachers.

Author of Ribbin’ Jivin’ & Playin’ the Dozens: The Persistent Dilemma in Our Schools, Herb examines the black male street-corner culture and behavior and how it is played out in classrooms. He posits that a lot of what is diagnosed as special needs in black students is cultural, and too many are inappropriately placed in special education. His courses are nationally recognized for producing educators with a high new-teacher retention rate.

While a professor at SUNY Buffalo, he had his own weekly half-hour radio show, “Inside Education,” on the local NPR station. “There are so few programs that deal with education topics,” he says, “and most of the reporters that deal with education don’t have an education background.”

Herb has recently come out of retirement to resume speaking engagements and his work in the schools. At his home in Edgartown, Herb explains, “The problem may be worse today because it’s spread beyond inner-city schools and into suburban schools.”

Making the most of free time
Adam Howell

Adam Howell

A handyman/carpenter by trade, Adam spends his off-time composing, performing, and recording folk music. Although he admits to stage fright, he plays his guitar and sings at the monthly potlucks at the Chilmark Community Center, as well as other Island venues, and sells his CDs at Aboveground Records in Edgartown. Mostly self-taught, Adam would eventually like to pursue a full-time career as a folk musician/composer, but that requires overcoming occasional angst.

From his home deep in the woods of West Tisbury, he explains, “You get really nervous when you start to notice that people are not paying attention and they’re losing their focus. The reciprocation is a very heavy factor in playing.” Adam does have some strategies, however, such as playing frequently. “If I can play a couple of times a month, I feel pretty comfortable,” he says.

“Sometimes I get carried away when I write music and I write complicated guitar parts. I can play them fine, but when I go to perform it’s not too good. The hands don’t do what I want them to do....The trick is to start with the really easy ones, I guess” – he produces a rusty chuckle and continues – “a lesson I haven’t yet learned.”

Melissa Gold

Melissa Gold

This sixteenth-generation Islander is not just in fabulous shape, she is a walking commercial for Matt Cancellare, her boxing trainer. Melissa’s transformation began last April, the fifty-year-old Vineyard Haven resident explains. “I thought it was time to shake things up and do something completely different.”

From behind the counter at Island Tire & Auto Service in Vineyard Haven, where she works as manager, she saw a regular female customer who looked terrific, and asked what she did to get that way. “She said, ‘I’m boxing,’” Melissa relates. “Before I knew it, she went ahead and scheduled my first session with [Matt]. I was scared to death.

“I’ve gone from once a week to three times a week now.”

Matt offers sparring on Saturday nights at the Quick Strike Training Gym, a converted garage in Vineyard Haven. But after one attempt, Melissa says she prefers to work out with the mitts and bags. “I couldn’t hit anybody. All I could do was laugh,” she admits. “I said, ‘I can’t punch! I’m not angry!’”

365 Project

Eli

Eli Dagostino of West Tisbury, a seventeen-year-old photographer and senior at the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School, set an ambitious creative challenge for himself for 2013: to shoot at least one photographic portrait a day for a year. Despite the challenges of scheduling, keeping up with work, and technical malfunctions, he says, “I’ve learned how important personal work is to an artist’s life.” Follow his daily portraits on Facebook (www.facebook.com/elidagphotomv) or at www.365.elidagostino.com.