90-year-old makes portrait painting her life and passion

Posted:†01/09/2009 03:42:22 PM EST

Days before her 90th birthday, Antoinette Martignoni sat in a chair a few feet from the door of the Visions Toward Wellness Gallery on Thimble Island Road in Stony Creek, a sleepy waterside community with its touch of artistic flair in Branford.

Martignoni, who lives in the Sullivan-McKinney Elder Housing on Meadowbrook Road, was greeting scores of friends and family members at her two-week art show, "The Intuitive Art of Antoinette," in early December. The gallery was packed with the artist's exuberant patrons, many of who have sat for one of her "Inner Portraits," which blend her artistic and spiritual sensibilities.

Her purpose in painting inner portraits is to "empower the individual to use their own qualities," said the artist during an interview in her home days before the show's opening. "It's not about making it up. All I have done is dream for these people."

Martignoni explained her painting process. She said she sits quietly with her subject for a few minutes to visualize the story about the person. After about an hour of drawing, the artist and her subject look at the images the real nature and the inner beauty and explore their meanings. This discussion is taped and the subject is given a copy of it along

with the portrait.

"I believe if you can see your real beauty when you own your own beauty that shifts the way you are out in the world and the way that people see you."

She paints the inner beauty that she senses from the people who pose for their portrait, which in essence is the way the individual is seen in the world.

"The inner portrait is a story," Martignoni said. "It gives people a chance to look at their own story. People bring the most amazing information to their portrait." "Amazement" is an appropriate word from the people who sat for their portraits. David Busby of West Hartford was amazed that in his portrait Martignoni had drawn in the background what appeared to be boat docks, which he said, looked exactly like those behind his house in Norwalk where he had formally lived.

Busby met Martignoni through his friend, Gail Bernson, a Norwalk-based massage therapist. He described Martignoni as "truly insightful, a person who lights up a room. Looking at his portrait at the show, Busby pointed out the way Martignoni had painted the light on his face that looked as if it were the number 17. "I was born on the 17th."

Busby said viewing his "inner portrait" made him aware of the choices he has to make that are available to us if we only look for them.

As part of the process in interpreting the portraits, the artist has the individual look at the portrait from all perspectives. Bernson noted that when she turned her portrait she noticed that an image in the painting looked like a buffalo, a sign for Bernson that dealt with a decision she was agonizing over with: whether or not to make a trip out west.

She interpreted Martignoni's portrait of her holding "the earth as representing a "synergy of energy empowering her. I am so tall. I seem centered and grounded."

Filmmaker Jim Cooksman of Milford said in his portrait, he looks "carefree, relaxed and open. I lose sight of that part of myself in my everyday life."

Fairfield resident Liz Flavin, a motivational speaker and founder of the Gratitude Etc. Jewelry Collection, met Martignoni and had her portrait painted. "The portrait is incredible. I saw power and strength. My voice had been silenced for so long," said Flavin, who had rebuilt her life after a difficult marriage. She explained that her portrait showed her holding a dragon, "which for me was strength."

Notre Dame Catholic High School senior Salvatore Sodaro, 17, was among the scores of friends and portrait subjects attending the show. He had a different perspective on Martignoni. She's his great-grandmother whom he calls "Mimi."

"I always grew up with her pictures. It's part of my history," said Sodaro, recalling 10 years ago how his Mimi would catch baseballs with him in the back yard. "She was better than I was," said the high school senior who loves to write, play music and make videos. His grandmother's creative life is "completely normal" to him.

Jon Moscartolo sat observing the throng of people that had come into his gallery for Martignoni's show. He recently opened his gallery to underscore the healing powers of art. A volunteer at hospice and at the veterans' hospital in West Haven, Moscartolo recently earned his doctorate in art education at Columbia.

"I was on the 20-year plan," said the gallery owner who formerly owned one in South Yarmouth. He spoke enthusiastically of Martignoni's portraits' representing the power of healing.

Martignoni grew up in Norwalk and graduated from Norwalk High School. She is the first student to receive the degree of Bachelor of Applied Arts from the University of Pennsylvania in 1942. In addition, she received a diploma in illustration from the Museum School of Industrial Art, now the Philadelphia College of Art. She has enjoyed a 50-year career in commercial illustration. She was noted for her illustrations of futuristic engineering projects such as the Boston tunnel (the Big Dig) and the nation's first people mover at West Virginia University.

In 1965, Martignoni attended a sťance in Shelton in which she came in contact with the spirits that lay the groundwork for her eventually painting inner portraits through her intuition. When she sits down to do a portrait she asks of herself what the person needs to see that is in their life right at that moment to inspire them to see the beauty and resources already in their life. Within minutes, she intuitively gets a picture in her mind that becomes the finished portrait.

Her interest in painting inner portraits began when a friend asked her to be the artist at a psychic fair in Pennsylvania in 1992 and drew 20 portraits for fair attendees. The experience inspired her to continue painting the portraits that underscore the point that "You Are Seen." To date, she has painted more than 700 portraits, in which Martignoni believes she draws her inspiration from her "guardian angels" or some spiritual force.

She has written a book, "You Are Seen: Drawing In Spirit," co-authored with Vanessa Wood and Lisa Jacoby, covering the impact of art on life in ways that people might recognize, yet find surprising. The book offers art, life stories and examples of transitional challenges. The authors are seeking a publisher for the book.

Martignoni's success with her inner portraits does not surprise her because she has spent her entire adult life observing the world. She recalled the many years she would carry a sketch book and observe life.

"I was training the eye and I didn't know I was training the inner eye," she said.  

© Copyright 2009 Rita Papazian All rights reserved.