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Class assignment inspires student’s painting

By Susan White

Like a lot of students, Patricia Mazzone was understandably a little anxious last semester about a class assignment that required her to present in front of her peers. Mazzone, a first-year MSW student in the School’s Triangle Distance Education Program, had certainly faced a lot of challenges as a crisis counselor, former school psychologist and as a working mother raising three children. But after a 25-year absence from the classroom, Mazzone shuddered at the thought of having to capture an audience’s attention. That is, until she decided to turn her anxiety into a work of art.

Some might call it a brushstroke of genius. Mazzone, who had minored in art as an undergrad at the University of New Mexico, knew that tapping into her inner Degas might be a bit unconventional for her instructor, Professor Iris Carlton-LaNey, and for the assignment. The task: Select a social work pioneer and write a 12- to 14-page paper on the individual’s contributions to social work/welfare and present a 15-minute report for class.

“I am not one with words,” Mazzone said. “I am a visual person, so I was just trying to figure out how I could do a presentation visually and take the focus off of me.”

One night, as she stood in her dining room and makeshift studio, creativity struck. She would paint a portrait of her selected pioneer, Jamaican-born Marcus Garvey, founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and a dynamic advocate for African American civil rights. Mazzone embraced the idea after reading about how another artist had used time lapse photography to visually record the evolution of a painting. Drawing from that same inspiration, Mazzone decided to capture Garvey in a similar way and produce a slide presentation for her class.

“I just loved him from the moment I saw him, and even thought, ‘I’ve got to paint him.’ ” she said. “He was just flamboyant and very charismatic and colorful. He wore these purple uniforms with plumes in his hat, and I just saw that artistic side first. And then I fell in love with his personality. He was really fearless and very quickly became this national and international force.”

The portrait took only two hours to complete. Mazzone added strokes of color here and there – red, purple, and gold. She snapped a photo and then repeated the process.

On class presentation day, Mazzone watched nervously as a few students presented their reports in costume.

She then gathered up her paintbrush, painter’s apron and PowerPoint.

“Let me paint you a portrait of Marcus Garvey,” she began. One by one, in 39 slides, she unveiled Garvey’s image. Classmates warmly praised her creative effort. A few whipped out cell phones and captured Mazzone’s work. Carlton-LaNey was equally impressed.

“It was dramatic and very effective,” she said. “The painting itself was also very nice.”

As a part-time artist over the years, Mazzone has always found satisfaction in her work. She’s sold paintings and even recently had a few exhibited as part of a downtown Raleigh event. However,  in the case of a nerve-racking research assignment, Mazzone said she discovered satisfaction and a sense of relief.

“I just turned it into something I really felt comfortable with,” she said. “It was fun.”