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Exhibit: ‘Art Pals’ project created to keep family connected during Covid-19 lockdown

Benjamin, Daniel, Sara Eve, Michele Rojas and Danielle Rivera pose on Sara Eve and Andrew Federoff’s wedding day.

By Elizabeth Perry

For Stowe business owner, Sara Eve Rivera, 36, art has always been part of her family.

To celebrate that sense of familial support and mutual inspiration, the Rivera family put together an exhibit of their assorted creative talents in an art show at Bantha Tea Bar serving the Bloomfield/Garfield neighborhoods of Pittsburgh.

“The way we choose to create shows our personalities. We all lived in the same house, but we’re all different,” Sara Eve said.

Matriarch Michele Rojas-Rivera is displaying some of her watercolor and ink drawings, Patriarch Daniel Rivera makes stained glass pieces, Danielle Zoe Rivera, an assistant professor at Berkeley in landscape architecture and environmental planning contributed photographs, Benjamin Rivera is a respiratory therapist with the U.S. Navy and is also a photographer and Andrew Federoff, Sara Eve’s spouse, is a glass blower. Sara Eve, who owns PMA Tattoo on Broadway Avenue in Stowe, contributed illustrative work.

Family photo of Danielle, Benjamin and Sara Eve Rivera circa 1991.

The show had previous success in State College, where Daniel and Michele reside.

Jack Ball, owner of the Bantha Tea Bar, said Sara Eve was someone he’s known for years. When the tea shop and art venue opened eight years ago, she was one of the first artists they exhibited.

“I approached her again to do another show, and she asked to include her family,” Ball said.

Sara Eve said the art mediums and styles her family gravitates to reflect their individual personalities. For instance, her father is an electrician by trade which was why she thought he had an affinity for stained glass.

“He likes the kind of art that’s very precise,” Sara Eve said.

Benjamin and Danielle both travel extensively for their work, and their photographs reflect those experiences directly, Sara Eve said.

Mother Michele tends to depict figures in her work, suggesting a focus on people. She started a non-profit art center in State College, Pennsylvania after the family moved there from the Brooklyn neighborhood of New York City. Initially, the center, Artistic Horizons, catered to all students who were interested, but more and more it became a place where individuals with special needs found an outlet.

Michele said working with the disabled community appealed to her because, like them, she viewed herself as an art outsider. When she first went to art school, she was older than the other students and already had three children. Her children always came first, and in some eyes that put her at a disadvantage.

“Because I had that mindset, I wasn’t considered an artist,” Michele said.

The family has always collaborated on art, especially through the center, but a unique project formed between Michele, Sara Eve and eventually Danielle during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The anxiety of being separated and the stress of having businesses that dealt mainly with the public – Sara Eve is a tattoo artist, and the intimacy of that work didn’t lend itself to lockdown – led to a “creative block” for both women.

“I didn’t have my art center,” Michele said.

To get them out of their rut, Sara Eve sent her mom a small painting, knowing her mom wouldn’t be able to resist sending something back.

“I get goosebumps with that because for me as an artist that was a lifeline,” Michele said.

They started calling it “art pals” instead of pen pals.

“Sending it back and forth was a godsend, because it was a connection to my kids. It created like a whole new world for me,” Michele said.

The small paintings freed Michele from worrying about trying new styles and techniques, because at 4 by 6, the “little guys” were such low stakes. She dubbed them “big world, small works.”

“A bunch of them will be at the show. They got me exploring different topics and things and I wasn’t afraid to create at such a small scale,” Michele said.

When things returned to normal, Sara Eve still wanted to connect with her family artistically, which is where the idea for the show began.

“Those paintings were so meaningful for me and Sara, too. It was a double connection besides just the phone,” Michele said.

The show at Bantha Tea Bar, 5002 Penn Ave. opens Friday, Sept. 1 from 6 to 9:30 p.m. and runs through Oct. 6.



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