Active 91 Year Old Artist Showcases Love Of Nature And Family
By J. L. Shively
Crayons were Mary Lobosco Zanfino’s first artistic medium. Back then she was very young and just discovering her own creativity. A resident of Totowa for 63 years, Zanfino’s work has come quite a ways in her 91 years.
At an early age, Zanfino recognized her love of creating and worked at both drawing and painting in her free time. She loved the art classes that were available to her in school and drew from a family of creators.
Her sisters were all very creative in different ways, Zanfino recalls, whether it was decorating, designing or sewing and her mother was excellent at knitting and crocheting.
“As a youngster I never considered it as an art but one of my pastimes was drawing comics like Popeye or Mickey Mouse,” states Zanfino.
Reminiscing on some of her early work, Zanfino recalls a drawing she had done of Snow White and the Seven Drawfs, which had hung above the blackboard in her seventh grade classroom. “Snow White and the Seven Drawfs was the first animated movie and was widely cherished at the time. My teacher asked me to draw it,” Zanfino recalls of the picture.
Having grown up in Paterson, Zanfino moved to Totowa in 1955. Growing up in a large family of seven children Zanfino continues to be a prominent and supportive figure in her family today.
“She’s a very encouraging teacher,” states Laura Tufano of her mother, Zanfino. Tufano notes that her mother holds painting sessions at her home for some of the family members.
Tufano, along with her daughter, Nina Tufano Ayers, and Tufano’s cousin, MaryAnn Lang, enjoy their sessions with Zanfino as a time to relax, socialize, and create. Laughingly, Tufano notes that her mother had never been one to get excited about going out to lunch or shopping but “if you tell her you’re coming over to paint, she’s always receptive. We treasure our creativity sessions with her.”
“I give my paintings as gifts and often have them hanging throughout my home,” Zanfino states.
Although she cannot pinpoint why she has never considered marketing her work, it is clear that art is a hobby which she attempts to share with those who will cherish it most. Very often she has a particular person in mind when she works on a new piece.
“I share my paintings with family and friends and often think of the individual who would appreciate a particular one,” says Zanfino.
Around Christmas time each year when others begin writing out their holiday cards, Zanfino undertakes her annual art project.
“Each year, I paint over 20 individual Christmas cards of a winter scene in watercolor to send to family and friends,” Zanfino states.
Many family members save these true treasures each year and have them framed. Work on these cards usually begins for Zanfino in late Oct. or early Nov. and she has already completed a number of cards for this year.
When she was a young child dabbling in art, Zanfino recalls the fact that her family always had a large can of broken crayons for her choose from. Then she was creating comics and making homemade birthday cards.
As Zanfino grew as an artist she has since experimented with many different mediums of art. While now she primarily works in watercolor she has worked with acrylic, oil, pencil, and ink. Branching out even more she has done works with stained glass and even wood carving.
“I take it as a challenge to do something I haven’t done before,” Zanfino notes and it is that challenge that keeps her painting and inspiring her to continue creating even into her nineties.
For Tufano, art and her mother were synonymous with each other.
“As long as I can remember, mom was engaged in one art form or another,” Tufano explains. “She has a natural talent for creating with just about any media.”
The works of other artists also keep Zanfino inspired. Although she notes that she is not particularly a fan of abstract work Zanfino admires artists such Georgia O’Keefe and the impressionists.
Her principal inspiration in her artwork is nature.
“I love nature,” Zanfino states, “and [I] express and share that feeling through my artwork.
Predominantly Zanfino’s work centers on a natural landscape or specific fanciful figures in nature. Flowers, birds, and butterflies are very common subjects of her brush on canvas.
“I have always loved being outdoors,” Zanfino states, having always enjoyed activities such as hiking, swimming, ice skating and taking long walks.
Having belonged to the Inter State Hiking Club for many years she actively enjoyed the outdoor landscape which inspires her work. Nowadays, Zanfino also notes she enjoys walking along the Morris Canal bank in her back yard and visiting flower shows.
Having grown up in the Zanfino family home, with its back to the Morris Canal, Tufano recalls her younger years being spent in the back yard. Tufano recalls how her mother, always the teacher, would help them identify plants and birds and always maintained beautiful gardens at their house. With the memory of her childhood of wonderful times spent outdoors and her mother’s continued passion for nature, Tufano finds many of her own subjects in her art are natural figures.
“Today, mom has birdfeeders in her yard, plants milkweed to attract monarch butterflies, plants an herb garden on her deck and refreshes her flower gardens regularly,” states Tufano of Zanfino’s continued influence and passion for nature.
Although she has taken some classes and the occasional workshop, Zanfino explains that she is largely self-taught, having learned from her own trials and experimentation.
First and foremost, Zanfino was an elementary school teacher and although she did not teach art she often tried to incorporate it into her lessons. She taught in both Bloomfield and Totowa.
Throughout her painting career, Zanfino surmises that she has created more than 50 works. Though many are cherished, her favorite painting is of a woodland scene she had done against a dramatic evening sky. Some of her works have even won local awards.
Three years ago, Zanfino explains, more than 30 of her paintings were featured at the Totowa Public Library. The exhibit ran for about two months and was very well-received.
Zanfino recalls some of the feedback she received on the art show.
“Some friends were unaware that I had done some interesting and varied types of paintings and pencil drawings,” she says. “I felt proud to have an opportunity to share my work. Groups of friends and family members would come to view the show.”
In 2014 Zanfino won second place for her painting of an iris at the Senior Art Show of Passaic County and then in 2015 she took first in the same show for her pencil drawing of a young girl with a dog.
The Passaic County Senior Art Show is exhibited at the county Totowa facility each year, says Zanfino, where a panel of artists award different selections based on a variety of categories in art.
With four children of her own and six grandchildren in addition, Zanfino tries to be an inspiring figure to them.
“I have always tried to encourage young children in the arts,” Zanfino states.
Her efforts have not been in vain because not only does her daughter, Tufano, now take classes, but her granddaughter, Ayers also has been working in watercolor.
“There is creativity in the family,” Zanfino states proudly and it is very likely that her own work has been significant to fostering that ingenuity.
In turn her family has always been a supportive aspect of her work.
“My family has always been complimentary and encouraging,” Zanfino states.
Even now, Zanfino remains an avid artist. Although she does not paint every day, much in part due to her other activities, she never considers herself to be in a creative slump.
“I am always on the alert, looking for something new or challenging,” states Zanfino.
To other aspiring artists Zanfino encourages their work, since to Zanfino, art “is something creative that nourishes your life.”
Tufano recalls what an impact her mother has been to her own creative life. “Mom’s creativity has had a profound influence on me,” she says. “It’s contagious and mom is always encouraging. I’ve never felt afraid to try or fail at something creative because I’ve learned from Mom that the real benefit of painting or writing or crafts is the opportunity for self-expression.”
Through the generations, creativity abounds and it appears that in Zanfino’s family, there will never be a shortage of inspiration.”