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Creating Beauty in the Face of Harsh Reality


When Palisades Parents Together was born in 1989 in response to a rash of tragedies involving area teen-agers--and media fallout depicting a wealthy community with no time for its kids--the group took as its motto, "It Takes a Whole Village to Raise a Child."

That village was, of course, Pacific Palisades.

But now PPT is reaching across an ocean to embrace the children of another village, Albesti, Romania, where, under tutelage of a talented teacher, 6- to 14-year-olds are creating extraordinary naive paintings.

Working at creaky wooden benches in a schoolroom warmed by a wood-burning stove, the youngsters turn paint and paper into magic carpets that take them on flights of fancy far from the harsh realities of rural life in a developing country.

They paint joyous scenes from Romanian folklore, celebrations of marriage and Baptism, themes of love and peace.

As one child wrote, "When I draw, evil seems to turn to goodness, ugliness to beauty, hatred to peace and joy. I feel I'm more beautiful and my soul is lighter and purer."

Their primitive art has won prizes in competitions in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. In 1994, Romania's Ministry of Youth and Tourism brought a few students and their teacher, Elena Stoica, to Los Angeles, where their work was shown as part of a cultural exchange during soccer's World Cup.

Here, Stoica met Georgiana Farnoaga, a Romanian scholar at UCLA. Stoica left some of the paintings with her, explaining, "There's no use taking these back to Romania," where few could afford to buy them.

Farnoaga brought them to her friend Sarah Adams, co-founder and president of Palisades Parents Together. Adams had recently visited Romania and discovered "a beautiful country of warm, hospitable people who were eager to make friends from the West."

Struck by the beauty of the paintings, Adams asked PTT to sponsor a one-night sale at the Palisades public library early last year. It raised $1,200 for purchase of better tempera paints and finer paper for the children of Albesti. Stoica, in turn, invited Adams to visit the village. She accepted.

In August, Adams and her husband, Tom, stayed with the Stoica family (everyone communicated in French), videotaped the members of the Chromo Club, as Stoica's elementary school art program is called, and brought back about 70 paintings.

These children, Sarah Adams says, "have much to teach us about the joy of life in spite of [the years under] a repressive government."

The paintings the Adamses brought, together with 40 more sent later and 30 of Stoica's watercolors, can be seen at the Brentwood Art Center, 13031 Montana Ave., through Dec. 16. The exhibit, "Dreams and Dances: Paintings by the Children of Albesti, Romania" will open with a reception and sale from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

Palisades Parents Together hopes to net $10,000 to support the art program and to bring some of the young artists and their teacher to Los Angeles to give children's art workshops for two weeks next summer.

Stoica, 47, has a master's degree in fine art and has been teaching at the Albesti school for 20 years, encouraging her pupils to dream of art careers. The key to the Chromo Club is always under the mat; some children walk miles to the art program from other villages after school.

While doing good work, the young artists are also doing good deeds. One of their murals brightens a children's neuropsychiatric clinic in Romania; sale of their work helped fund a foundation for terminally ill children. Now there's talk of Christmas cards.

Farnoaga, who's writing a book of Romanian folklore to be illustrated by the children, hopes, too, that the Brentwood exhibit will help people to "see another facet of Romania," where much has been reported about orphaned and abandoned children.

The Adams video depicts a different Romania. Albesti, nestled at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains about 100 miles northwest of Bucharest, is a village where horse carts compete with cars for right-of-way, men and women work the fields with crude implements and--television notwithstanding--village traditions pass from generation to generation.

Ed Buttwinick, Brentwood Art Center director, has been teaching children to paint for 35 years. The Romanian youngsters' work, he says, is "outstanding. The quality of the imagery and the compositions and the craftsmanship . . . these obviously were done by kids who have a lot of talent and a lot of love for what they're doing."

Saying Aloha to 'Aunty Mary'

L.A.'s Hawaiian community had come together at the Carson Community Center to say mahalo to "Aunty Mary." As is traditional, they said it with her favorite songs.

The object of their affection, Mary Kahihilani Kovich, is a transplanted islander who moved to the Mainland in 1963 and for more than 20 years has devoted herself to keeping Hawaiian culture alive here and in the islands.

"This is like a goodby. It's our way of saying aloha," said her son, John, 45, as the audience of 400 applauded the hula dancers.

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