By Olivia Silvestro, Snug Harbor Arts Intern Spring 2022
Elizabeth Sollazzo-Daland started her relationship with Snug Harbor at just thirteen years old when she learned about the Art Lab School of Fine & Applied Arts studio. “This is going back thirty-five, forty years ago at least, but I remember meeting Craig Manister, who is one of the founders of the Art Lab and he had created the Art Lab with others there. But I was just as captivated with the space, the secret gem, and it was not that developed at the time.” Elizabeth has seen the borough of Staten Island change and develop into what it is today. She goes on to say how there weren’t many opportunities here for artists to thrive, but now things are evolving. “I’ve seen it grow over thirty-five years, I should say, as well as gallery space, I think Snug Harbor Cultural Center was essential in bringing that forward.”
She has been teaching art for over twenty years and has been a creator for as long as she can remember. Born and raised in Staten Island, she is familiar with the ins and outs of the art community.
Over the years, she has taught at many different schools, institutions, and programs, but with the pandemic, things have been on hold. “I miss them terribly, it was all hands-on. You know, I’ve taught at On Your Mark, I taught severely disabled students, adults. We did hand over hand to create. Hand over hand technique where you’re taking their hand, so there’s that whole touch. The element of being next to someone, I miss terribly. It’s been a rough time. You miss seeing things when you’re upfront and next to a person, how they create. You don’t catch all of it online.”
As an educator, Elizabeth has broken the barrier about what it means to teach fine art. Her satisfaction from giving back to her community with her passion for art-making has landed her many opportunities. While working at the Arthur Kill Prison facility, she created a program that was the only one of its kind in the state to help inmates with special needs.
While working at the Art Lab located at Snug Harbor, she initiated a program that used new materials to create art with molten wax. Her resume of facilities she has worked and taught at is endless.
Since her career teaching has come to a slow halt, she is currently working on a piece for a show at Casa Belvedere, the Italian Cultural Foundation, located on Grymes Hill in Staten Island.
Her studio located on Snug Harbor’s campus is her hide away. She has had a studio practice here since 1992, but had to take a break because of her children. She came back ready to work in 2006 and has been active ever since. Having a long-term studio practice at Snug Harbor has had a major impact on her creative process. “Without a doubt, it’s my sanctuary. The energy is very healing. Very profound. The architecture, and the preserved buildings are very inspirational. Looking out the window at the many different trees that are planted on the ground that have been here for at least over 100 years. The botanical gardens, the Chinese Scholar’s Garden, which is one of the largest Chinese scholar’s gardens in the northeast, right outside my window. That’s just amazing. It has had a very profound impression. It’s my sanctuary and it’s amazing that I can come here and just create, it’s just amazing.”
Her process when she starts a new project is going out into the world and getting inspired. “Libraries are so, so, so essential and inspiring. And I think, nature, definitely nature like right now, I love florals.”
When asked about the young creative community, she says, “Good to do your schooling. I would advise them to work in an internship or part-time just to get engulfed into the art world, find a mentor. That’s very important. I had several mentors, if it’s art, go where it leads you. See what comes from it.”
“You do it, first of all, because you love to do it. If there’s a love relationship there, there’s an affair. It’s an obsession, it’s a good one, and it fills the void. But also get educated in it. Do and teach would be my recommendation.”
“Don’t have expectations if it doesn’t go to this level or, you know, all art or creating beautiful works is good.”
“See what swings, that’s my best advice. See where it takes you. It won’t return void, I guarantee that because it has definitely brought me to a sustainable lifestyle. When I was working, it was very fulfilling and it still is.”
Elizabeth has always admired our borough of Staten Island and her community. She has faith in our art community to grow and prosper, “I’m glad Staten Island’s got a good venue. They have upped their game over thirty years, but again, getting back to Snug Harbor, they were one of the pioneers, if not the beginning [of the art community].”
The digital art world has also grown an immense amount the last few years. “The NFT (non-fungible token) that was just sold here on Staten Island was sold for $20,000, and that was in Vince MacDermot’s show titled, “Under the Big Red Umbrella” through Canvas Institute, which is pretty incredible. I don’t know why that didn’t hit The New York Times because it’s incorporating us digitally as our signature. I have no NFTs yet, so that’s going to be a new path for me to take. I’m excited about it. It’s exciting that it’s happening, especially in Staten Island.”
Toward the end of our conversation, Elizabeth reflected on how the definition of art is evolving, and her attitude towards the art world. “The word art usually means beautiful, going back to dictionaries. I’ve yet to look up the dictionaries from years ago and see how the definition has changed, but to my knowledge, it has. And it does encompass everything that starts on a drawing board. But I want to go back to its beauty. Not everything is art. We’ve taken it to a level where it has distorted even our abstractions. So that being said, if we can just focus on the beauty and the art, I think we need to, especially in dark times.”
“As an artist, I want to stand on that platform and continue to follow the color.”