SAND CASTLE LANDS


In the Shade of the Lighthouse
Clementina Valentino: A New Haven Artist

A photo-essay by Rob LeBlanc


If you are ever in the vicinity of Lighthouse Point in New Haven and pass a small, green house, on the left as you head to "The Point," you may have missed Clementina "Clem" Valentino walking her dog, Penelope "Penny" or working in the garden or standing on the front porch watching the ever changing waters of Long Island Sound.

Then again you might find her sitting along the "Headwall" behind an easle trying to catch some subtle mood of the bay. Clem has lived near "the lighthouse" most of her life. She and her brother "Val" are both artists, Val preferring Nikon lenses to paintbrushes and hard-pressed paper. Val's photographs have been exhibited at Yale University's Dunham School of Engineering and he has lectured at Wesleyan University on the art of photography.
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Brother Val, an independent, electronics equipment designer, lives several miles away in East Haven where he shares a home with two cats, Marbles and Patty and a sailboat. His daughter Diana and her family, husband Gary and two boys, Gary Junior and Michael live near the airport which is midway between the homes of Val and Clem.

Now in retirement, Clem worked for most of her working lifetime as a reading teacher in the Hamden school system. She is fond of fairy tales and nature and draws much of her inspiration for her painting from local scenes, reminiscences of yesterday or directly from her imagination.


From the Valentino Family Album: Clementina and "Val."

During their early childhood years, Clem, the elder sister and Val lived in New Haven in what is now called Newhallville. There came a time when their parents, Onofrio and Minnie purchased a summer place near Lighthouse Point. This house they winterized and turned into a very comfortable year round home.


From the Valentino Family Album: Clementina and Val

The same is true for most of the other houses in the neighborhood, a landscape  which has grown from its role as a summer vacation spot by the sea, into that of a residential community at the fringe of the city.

Clem often paints with a group from New Haven which she has belonged to for many years. Actually she shifts occasionally from the New Haven painter's group to a Guilford group and then back again. In this way she has met a considerable number of area artists who she often invites in to her home for tea and "painter's talk."

For many years Clem worked in oil painting, seen here posing against the backdrop of one of her early works. In recent years she has shifted over to watercolors and guache and has compiled a body of work in that medium. She is a frequent exhibitor at shows in the New Haven, Branford, Guilford area.


L-R: Joe and Joan (Sharr) Pagliarulo, Clementina Valentino and  Joan's older brother Edward Sharr

Old friends from "yesterday" drop by on occasion to reminisce about "the old days" when their parents, the Valentinos and the Sharr's brought the children together. Now, many years later, the Sharr "children" are up visiting from their homes in Florida. They discover that their "pal" Clem has an artistic side they never knew about.
 
 

In view of her proximity to the sea it is not surprising that many of Clem's paintings deal with the landscape and communities along the coastline. She is often seen beachcombing in the company of her dog Penny, stopping now and then to look at an unusual stone, or seashell, polished by the sea; or to lift a sea-sculptured piece of driftwood and hold it up to the light to see what shapes she can find in the wood.

Painting is not the only interest in Clem's life since the church plays an important role. She is a mainstay in one New Haven church and a principal readers of lecturs at their weekly services.

When the Halloween season arrives, children in the local daycare center are brought round to visit and to watch Clem sculpture some pumpkins. She uses the opportunity to teach a little science and to introduce such terms as skin, rind, flesh and seeds to the 4 and 5 year olders. Then the children watch as she turns the raw pumpkins from vegetables into characters out of the mythology of Halloween.

Halloween eve finds Clem among the throng,  walking down the main street with all of the neighborhood ghouls and goblins as part of the parade to celebrate the holiday.


Clem and brother Val discuss Easter dinner preparations

Holidays are important times for both Val and Clem as it's a special moment to gather family and friends, to enjoy specially prepared, home-cooked food and the pleasure and companionship of good folks.


left to right: a friend, Gary Jr., Michael, Gary Sr. and Diana

On Thanksgiving and Christmas, Easter too, her brother Val along with his daughter Diana, her husband Gary and sons Gary Junior and Michael are guests, along with family friends, as Clem cooks up her special holiday dinners. Usually holidays are alternated between Clem's home and Val's as brother Val is an excellent cook as well.

During most of the two weeks before Christmas her paints are put away on a shelf in the upstairs studio as Clem, is busy baking and packing into tins her hand-made cookies to give as gifts to her family, friends and neighbors.

When the holiday has ended, until the next season arrives, paints and paper come down from the upstairs studio, brushes are checked, paint tubes readied and new tints purchased for further painting excursions along the coast. Often a telephone call from a "painting buddy" such as  friend Joan will accelerate the process and soon Clem and Joan or other friends will be on their way to a new location to try and "capture" the essence of the day - the moment - the light and shade - the very mood of the land and the sea.

At other times, especially during the Autumn season Clem's paintbrush turns inland toward the hills and forests,  land which was once occupied by farms and small communities. Much of that countryside has changed in Connecticut, as elsewhere, but there are still a few quaint houses and buildings to "capture" during the mid-day sun.

Sometimes a barn, way out there, across the fields, catches Clem's eye; she drives up to the home in front of the barn with one of her painting friends to explain their interest in the building. Usually the owner, who is sometimes the child grandchild or greatgrandchild of the original builder or landowner, is delighted at the interest shown in their family's history and  makes the painters welcome.

Now that the subject has been chosen Clem sets up her easel and tries to focus in on the center of her new interest. Sometimes she sketches the idea roughly on paper but more often than not she will go directly from brush to paper without a preliminary drawing, preferring to catch the essence of the scene in the freshest, most expressionistic way possible. Meanwhile her painting buddy works away on a picture, in her own style, that will have a completely different character than the painting next to her.

Often, says Clem, the landowner or wife will come out with a cup of tea or sandwiches, cookies or the likes. Then it's time to take a break and chat and usually, within the conversation a friend's name, common to both of them will come up. Such is the nature of this seacoast area where families have lived and worked for several generations now.

Clem has an amazing sense for color and can match any two shades of the same pigment almost exactly. On occasion, but more recently now, she likes to break away from the conventional treatment of a subject, treating it in an abstract fashion, relishing the colors and textures of the scene and trying to capture the essence of that vision.

The changing seasons inspire Clem a great deal and the sight of giant kites flitting across the sky over the ocean at Hammonasett Beach send her scurrying for her easel and paints.

With her long career in teaching reading to children Clem has developed a particular love for the sight of children playing and so to see them frolicking on the beach with their parents brings a delight to her which she attempts to capture on paper with paint.

Though there is another side to Clem as the artist who loves to paint "lonely" landscapes wherein not a single soul is visible. She finds in these scenes a sense of serenity which has largly vanished from our society but which she can recreate with several well-placed strokes of her brush.

But, just as soon as you try to describe this quiet looking woman and her peaceful scenes as a conservative artist she'll surprise everyone by throwing an abstract swirl of color your way. She's a modest woman, this daughter of Italian immigrants. Clem studied hard at Albertus Magnus, then Southern Connecticut College and became the first PHD of education in her family, graduating from the University of Connecticut.
 

She's proud of her accomplishments but reticent to boast about them. Her friends know her as someone who is always ready to help out when distress arises. She is quick to put away her brushes and take up whatever is needed to assist a friend in need.

From Clem's works it is obvious that her vision has taken her beyond the limits of New Haven. A conversation with the lady will bring on her admission that she has travelled to Canada, Mexico City, Bavaria for the Passion Play, the Holy Land twice, Southern France, Italy, Turkey, Ireland and other distant ports. And though most of her painting is modelled by the landscape of Connecticut still there are elements within those paintings that lead us to feel the presence of distant lands, other places, other times. As Clem says, "My paintings could be of anywhere."

She is most happy sitting in the warm sun of summer, wearing a visor and trying to capture the essence of the world she has grown up in and dearly loves. She is certainly a daughter of New England . . .

- Clementina Valentino: Portrait of an artist from New Haven  -



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