Featured Member: The Mighty Quinn Foundation

The Mighty Quinn Foundation is the 501c(3) behind the Stratford-based Shakespeare Academy @ Stratford, a summer theater program for college students; and the New Works Lab @ Stratford, a program to support playwrights and directors creating new writing. In 2016, it takes the reins for the town’s theater program, In the Spotlight, a 30-year-old, town-run theatre program for 7-12th graders. Wright operates the foundation with her husband, Chris Rooney, and their children.

Shakespeare Academy @ Stratford 2016 Mighty Quinn FoundationCAGCT: The foundation is named for your son Quinn, who died of a rare brain cancer in 2012. Tell us about why theatre.

SW: For most of Quinn’s life we lived in Stratford and Quinn grew up playing on the grounds of the Shakespeare theatre. He would mow the lawn when it was in disrepair. He loved theatre. He even wrote an impassioned letter to the people at the festival: why don’t you have more young people involved?

Because if you have young people involved, their parents will come to the show. It will sell more tickets. After he died, we wanted to create something to honor his spirit and joy.

CAGCT: Why did you choose Shakespeare?
SW: We approached two friends of Quinn’s who were recent college graduates. We had an idea of doing a theatre program on the festival grounds. They researched programs around the country and the world, and came up with the framework. It is filling a niche that had not been created elsewhere.

(The program is a six-week, educationally intensive workshop on the grounds of the former American Shakespeare Festival Theater in Stratford. Students take daily classes in Shakespeare performance and contemporary ensemble theater- making and perform two Shakespeare plays in repertoire at the end of the program.)

CAGCT: You lease space from the town at “The White House” on the Shakespeare grounds for your academy. The building has had some improvements. How is the space?

It’s a work in progress but it is great to have the space. We would like to have the ability to do programming throughout the year. Workshops for high school students to learn how to audition. Offer weekend classes for adult actors, that sort of thing. We want to keep expanding theatre programming, but we want to be sure we do it well.

Urinetown by In the Spotlight Stratford Mighty Quinn Foundation

CAGCT: The foundation’s latest addition is the long-running town theatre program, “In the Spotlight,” which many Stratford-ites know well. How did that come about?

SW: The town did not have the funding to keep it. So they reached out to us. Tammy Trojanowski will be helping to transition it. Three of my four children performed through the program, including Quinn.

They do a musical production in the spring/summer every year for youth. The one we are doing this year is “Urinetown” (which is a really awful name for a terrific show, by the way).

Alumni from the program are doing an Indiegogo campaign. And because there is not a theater that has air conditioning in Stratford, we are going to be doing the performances at the Klein Theatre in Bridgeport.

Auditions were in May and the program runs June 13 through July 23. It overlaps with the Shakespeare Academy.

CAGCT: It sounds like you’ve hit the ground running with this program.

SW: We have tons of very dedicated “In the Spotlight” parents, alumni and advisory board members! They are helping us do different parts of the program, helping us to keep the program alive.

CAGCT: You mentioned that you have other family involved in the foundation as well.

SW: Joe lives in the city so he isn’t involved in the day-to-day. He is our treasurer. Our son, Brendan, is the residential life coordinator. Katie, who is a junior at Laurelton, she does babysitting for the Master Class teachers and does anything needed to help things run smoothly. She helps with taking photos. And of course [my husband] Chris [Rooney] is the Board Chairman.

CAGCT: That is one dedicated family! Thanks Sue!

Featured Artist Mick Theebs

Artist Mick Theebs
Artist Mick Theebs
Mick at work.

Artist Mick Theebs: A Jack of All Arts

This past week I was able to have a discussion with local artist Mick Theebs to discuss his works as well as other aspects of his life. His website ALSOTHAT.com showcases his works as well as several other artists. I had the recent pleasure of exchanging words with him as he is a member of the Guild and become more familiar with him. 

Coastal Arts Guild of CT: At what age did you start to get involved in art?

Mick Theebs: I’ve been writing fiction and poetry for most of my life. It’s something I’ve always been compelled to do, I guess. I can’t really ever imagine life without it.

Visual art, on the other hand, is a much more recent passion. I would say I started painting only four or five years ago, at most. That would put me at around 20 years old. Even then, my paintings were small and rudimentary. Only very recently have I started to take my visual art more seriously. I still have a lot to learn, but I’m enjoying myself.

CAGCT: What were some of the factors that got you going in art?

MT: I can’t say there was one thing that made me realize I wanted to be an artist. It was kind of a gradual thing. I always thought it would be fun to be a painter. One day I finally pulled the trigger and bought some art supplies. It’s hard to explain in a concise manner, but I believe art (writing, painting, music, performance, etc.) is the most important thing humanity has created, as it allows us to explore and document both our material and immaterial experiences. Imagine how ugly and boring the world would be without art!

CAGCT: On your website, there is both photography and visual art. Do you prefer doing one over the other?

MT: I prefer visual art, hands down. I originally purchased my camera to take high-quality photos of my work. I definitely enjoy taking photos, but I think there are bigger barriers to development- namely the price of quality equipment, which keeps me from honing my skills as much as I would like to. Plus, I find the experience of creating something with my own two hands more immediate and rewarding.

It's All In Your Head by artist Mick Theebs
“It’s All In Your Head” by artist Mick Theebs. 

CAGCT: Which piece of art of yours is your favorite and what was the inspiration behind it?

MT: I have two pieces that are very dear to my heart: Kiss and Isabelle. These were the first two pieces I painted that made me stop and say “I think I might be a real artist now”.

I wish there was some deeper meaning or inspiration that I could point to, but there isn’t. I was noodling around in Photoshop and ended up creating designs I liked then decided to make paintings based on those designs. These two paintings are the direct result of that process.

CAGCT: When you are not creating art, what may someone see you doing on a day like this?

MT: This may sound boring, but I don’t really do much besides making art. I try to spend time with my family and with my beautiful girlfriend, Kat. I try to engage the art community by attending events and visiting artists in their studios. I run ALSO THAT, which is in a constant state of improvement. I work on my fiction and poetry and have recently started branching out into script writing with a few close friends. Fit all this around a 9-5 office job and there isn’t much time for anything else.

CAGCT: What is your EDSFTG (Every Day Should Feel This Good) moment?

MT: Whenever I have a full day to myself, I try to set a few goals. Get some writing done, do a little painting. Read. Exercise. Do some website maintenance. I’ll write my tasks down in a little notepad and cross them off when I complete them. I would say my EDSFTG moment is when I get everything done and still have a little time to myself to relax and unwind.

CAGCT: If you could be any person in the world for a day, who would it be?

MT: Somehow this is the hardest question. I feel like Jerry Seinfeld has a great life. I don’t think I would mind being him for a day. If I could be anyone living or dead, I would have to say Pablo Picasso, just so I could know what it feels like to be a genius.

You can follow artist Mick Theebs on Twitter @MickTheebs or @ALSO_THAT or read more at ALSOTHAT.com

Painter Karen Essig in the Natural World

Sailboat by Karen Essig
Karen Essig CT painter
Painter Karen Essig, a Coastal Arts Guild Member,  depicts her New England home and neighbors in landscape, portrait and still life through watercolors & oils.

Guild member and painter Karen Essig will not be found painting in her studio all day. In fact, the room where she most recently used as her studio is now a spare room for her grandchildren.

Like many artists, Essig works full-time. She is a nurse.But her practical life has not stopped Essig from pursuing her dream one. She paints copiously.

“When I was young I would love watching my Mom paint pictures in her spare time. She is a very talented artist, and  I hoped her talents would rub off on me.  I started playing around with a sketch pad for fun as a young girl, and  I painted my first oil painting at the age of 16.”

Sailboat by Essig

It wasn’t until she was 50, that she started working with watercolors. She had found her medium.

“I had always worked worked in oils. It wasn’t until the last 5 years that I really expanded into watercolors. I love it.”
As a painter, Essig has enjoyed dozens of commissions over her years paintings, including children’s portraits as well as 15 paintings for the Hershey Hotel when it was remodeled.

As a lifelong New Englander, Essig said she is affected by the beach, the sea and the natural world.

“I am intriguied by nature and colorful subjects,” she said. “I like to paint realistic images. I have done everything from scenery to portraits to still lifes.”

Contact Karen Essig for commission portraits or to view a gallery of her latest available work.

Featured Artist Tony Mack

Tony Mack and his art car "Hustle Hard"
“My real name is Cody Urban. Tony Mack in my artist name. I’m from Stratford. This is my home.”

Three months out of Stratford High School, Cody Urban — now known as Tony Mack, the artist of Colors Beyond Me — picked up and left Stratford. He went to the Bay Area of California, and points north of there. A woman he met hired him to work on her property, to take care of the house. Another man hired him to dig dirt.

“I didn’t know no one. Just took clothes and went to walk around and be free,” he said.

It was through these odd jobs that he met Mendocino, Calif.-based surface ornamentation artist Larry Fuente.
Tony Mack Fish

“I met him and I didn’t even know who he was. He would give me rides to the grocery store and stuff. He told me he made money gluing things onto stuff.”

Eventually Mack saved enough money for a bike. And then a 1974 lime green Dodge Dart Swinger. He started working on his first art car. He’d go to the beach and collect shells and sea glass and whatever else was free. He’s come home with backpacks of it.

One day he ran into Fuente at the store and showed him what he was working on. After that day, Mack said, “I was one of his kids. I would be at his family functions.”

Mack entered his first parade following Fuente. “He was my glue-ru.”

Mack returned to his home state because, he said, he felt in certain parts of the country, there are people who are willing to see and experience things differently. When he drove his “Hustle Hard” car art onto Paradise Green at the 2015 Artists & Artisans show, it turned every head.

“Why would you  want to be anywhere else?” he said. “With my work, I go out and try to make the change. And you will see people around that car who would not normally talk to each other. And they are together, sharing something.”

Tony Mack is a member of the Coastal Arts Guild of CT. 
See more of Tony Mack’s work at Colors Beyond Me. 

Suzanne Coiro – An American Watercolorist

Coastal Arts Guild of CT member Suzanne Coiro uses watercolors to create beautiful and representational visions of the natural world. Coiro is an American landscape and seascape watercolor painter based in Stratford, CT and formerly of Queens, New York.


Landscape by Suzanne Coiro


Throughout her life she has continued to refine her skills as a fine artist, but Suzanne began her artistic career in the early 1980’s as a graphic designer, designing corporate marketing materials primarily for the legal field. She received her initial training at Stony Brook University, Long Island, School of Visual Arts, NYC, and Parsons School of Design, NYC. She decided to close her personal graphic design business in 2007 and now devotes her time exclusively to painting.



Members of the guild enjoyed Coiro's discussion of her work at the guild's April meeting.
Members of the guild enjoyed Coiro’s discussion of her work at the guild’s April meeting.

Although her true love is the ocean, you will often find Suzanne at the beaches of Stratford and Milford, sketching dune grasses and the rocky shoreline of Long Island Sound. She will sometimes explore a floral or architectural subject.

Coiro's painting "Sunflower" was selected to be included in the Guild's notecard collection
Coiro’s painting “Sunflower” was selected to be included in the Guild’s notecard collection

Coiro is currently a member of the board of the Coastal Arts Guild of Connecticut, holding the office of Secretary since 2004 and in previous years when it was the Stratford Arts Guild.
If you wish to contact Suzanne to schedule a meeting to preview her work or to commission a work, email Coiro at s.coiro@sbcglobal.net.

Featured Artist Amy Oestreicher

Amy Festreicher 2015Amy Oestreicher is a mixed media artist who lives in Westport, CT.

Amy Oestreicher is a 28-year-old artist, musician, teacher, actress  composer, dancer, writer,yogi, foodie, and general lover of life. 

Surviving and thriving through a coma, 27 surgeries and other trauma has inspired Amy to share her story with the world through her passionate desire to create and help others.

Amy has written, directed and starred in a one woman musical about her life, Gutless & Grateful, has flourished as a mixed media and acrylic artist, with her art in multiple galleries and dozens of solo art shows.

CAGCT: Did you study art?

AO: I learned art accidentally on my way to healing and don’t have much formal art training.

However, I plan on studying more of the technical aspects of art, such as figure drawing, to have a wider range in my work.

Being a self taught artist, the idea of drawing the human body always has intimidated me – we all have an inner critic! However, I used figures in my work over and over again throughout the years in order to process what I was feeling after nearly 30 life AND body-altering surgeries.

   Amy Oestreicher 2015 trees

After every surgery, I would wake up with a new anatomy – a bag here, no belly button here, this missing, that added. It was very dissociating and made me feel like an alien to myself. I drew the figure to find wholeness with my body again, to accept it, to show the different “selves” of me, to love it as my own.

Now, I am very fascinated with the figure in how it relates to the world, nature, and the flesh. Seeing my “figures” look more and more body-like reassures me – it lets me know that I am starting to feel human, starting to accept my body for what it has been through, and call it my own.

CAGCT: Who has influenced your work?

AO: Originally, painting… was an amazing way for me to express what was too overwhelming, frustrating and scary for words. Whatever distress I was feeling, whatever uncertainty I wrestled with, once I put my brush to the canvas, something felt released – my sadness was still there, but at least I could feel it. And so for a long while, my sadness inspired my painting. YET, it would transform my painting. …

… Of course, my latest inspiration has been … my fiancé – who will become my husband in a few weeks. Basically, life inspires me – the fact that life always gives us second chances – that it’s never too late to grow, learn, evolve, and continually change.

Now that I’ve learned more in the art world, I find my romantic whimsy in Chagall, the art therapy part of my work portrayed in Frida Kahlo, the collage part in Matisse, and the abstractions in Kandinsky.

Artist Amy Oestreicher 2015_X

CAGCT: Where do you work?

AO: I work in a studio in my basement that used to be an old storage room.  I tend to work with a lot of layering and mixed media materials – anything from tissue paper to fabric, buttons, papers, or toilet paper (I created much art in hospitals and was very limited with materials!).

The process really depends on what I am sensing within. I love playing with textures, colors and shapes and allowing them to form the sadness, frustration, joy, or whatever inspiration I am feeling at that moment. I love acrylic painting, mixed media art, collage, clay sculpting – anything that I can fully immerse myself in and grasp a sense of who I have become, and discover my interior world.

The best thing about my studio is how it envelopes me – the space is relatively small, and there are shelves on every side, so the shelves of supplies form a circle around me, like my copic markers, stamps, cigar boxes and paints are all surrounding me with love and support, giving me a big bear hug. If I turn around, myself, in a complete circle, all I see are my art supplies. No windows, nothing but art. I always feel like a kid in a candy store when I’m down there.

Amy Oestreicher_Kid Today

CAGCT: How has your work changed over time?

AO: As a self taught artist, I first started to paint to express what I was feeling. It was deeply personal, unstructured, free form, and uninhibited. Now, it is still abstract and personal, but more artistically refined as I have discovered my artistic voice and learned new techniques.

Only lately have I started making my passion a business. I started blogging daily just as a way to document all of the painting I was doing. Soon, I amassed a large social media following, and now have people waiting to see what I’ve created every day! I just opened my first Etsy storefront and am selling motivational prints of a painting that I first made in the hospital, with plans to donate some to foundations and hospitals. I’m also selling cards of my work and mixed media pins – I do sell my originals though it’s sentimentally difficult for me! My art is currently in seven galleries in the area, with the latest in a museum that I always loved as a child.

Amy Oest_2015


Visit Amy online at Etsyher website, and Facebook.

A good look at “Barnwood”

Erin & Vin Scimeca of Barnwood & Bangles

At our June meeting, we got an up close and personal look at our members, Erin and Vin Scimeca’s work. They are the owners of “Barnwood and Bangles,” a custom furniture and home decor company, with items made from reclaimed wood and other beautiful recycled items.

Upcycled furniture vintage Connecticut

Erin and Vin both have “day” jobs, but you can see they are really dedicated to the work they are doing “on the side”… it’s visible in everything they have done in their own house.

The wooden flooring in the kitchen is gorgeous and completely redone with recycled palette wood.

They hosted a holiday pop-up shop in their space with great success.

They’ve built a beautiful seating area in their Lordship-area backyard, including a “stargazer”… reclaimed from their daughter Kate’s old bunkbed.

Brand and Bangles Stargazer converted Bunkbed Arts Guild
You have to take a good, close look at just about everything in their family room… because it’s probably been handcrafted by the couple: everything from the bar to the long table and bench, from the reclaimed wood coatrack. In fact, the whole, amazingly beautiful room was once a garage!

Erin and Vin will be bringing Barnwood and Bangles to our August show Artists & Artisans in Paradise, but I’d recommend you connect with them soon. Their work is sure to be big demand before you know it.

Brian Jennings: Composer, Thinker, Sculptor

Brian Jennings in his thinking place.
Brian Jennings in his thinking place.

Brian Jennings is a sculptor and composer who has lived and worked in Stratford his entire life. Born in 1937, he started playing piano in the late 1940s and has several of his compositions listed in the Library of Congress, including “Refrains of Childhood Not Forgotten.” He has recorded two CDs, “Reverie” and “Reflections.”

In the last decade, he has taken up sculpture after taking classes at the Creative Arts Workshop. He works primarily in marble, in the neoclassical style. He’s lived at his home on Academy Hill since 1971.

CAGCT: Why did you choose to sculpt images of your family?

BJ: I don’t know. I suppose I know them better than anyone else. And I love little children. My mother didn’t like this image of herself. It made her look older than she was. It wasn’t very complimentary. It was really more a commentary on aging. She does have more wrinkles here than she deserves.

"Mother" by Brian Jennings

CAGCT: What did you do before you took up art full-time?

BJ: I worked for Oronoque Orchards for 21 years. I made the pie dough, which they shipped all around the country. They wanted me to be a manager, you know, to do things like figure out how much shortening to order and such, but I said no. I was too creative for that. It was hard work too.

CAGCT: What are you working on right now?

BJ: I’ve got my typing that is keeping me busy. I’ve been writing like a fiend. I write in dialogues – you know, Platonic dialogues? It’s on any subject I happen to think of – death, God, time – but all in dialogues. I’ve got hundreds of pages of it.


CAGCT: Your family is all musical. Your father, George Lawyer Jennings, played the cello for the New Haven Symphony, and your grandmother, Katherine Jennings, played the trombone and the piano. Your sons record and teach music at the Acoustic Refuge in Easton. Now you’ve been working on writing and sculpting these past few years. Do you feel these creative outlets are all linked for you?

BJ: I don’t know if they are linked. They are all parts of my nature, I suppose.

CAGCT: You lost your wife, Barbara Jennings, a painter, several years back. You still have many of her paintings. Do want to keep her works, or share them, perhaps sell them?

BJ: I did give away some of them. I didn’t like to surrender any of them, even the ones on the walls. Here you can see these still have price tags on them.

CAGCT: You’ve got quite an extensive set of gym equipment in your basement. What is the story?

Brian Jennings BJ: When I was five years old, I had a ruptured appendix. I almost died. I can still see an image of myself taken away in the front yard on a stretcher. It’s always stuck with me. I think ever since then, since my recovery, I got interested in keeping fit.

I’m a great believer in inversion. I read somewhere once that the creatures that live the longest lives are the ones that have their heads lower than their bodies. So on any given day you might come by and I’ll be hanging around upside down.

Picasso said: ‘Youth has no age.’ And I believe that. Whoever said it was a good for you to age is wrong. I see these guys who retire and they sit around and get a big stomach. The older you are the more interests you need.

I did it naturally. The day is not long enough for everything I want to do. So many people are bored. I am never bored.

Brian Jennings’ phone number is probably listed in the White Pages. Or you may be lucky to meet him in person at a Guild meeting. He is not online (except here).  

Featured Artist Mark Hannon – Illustrator

Mark Hannon Illustrator
Mark Hannon

Mark Hannon is a Stratford-based graphic designer and illustrator and currently the president of the Coastal Arts Guild of CT.

Mark has worked on national accounts for medium to large ad agencies. He is able to offer big agency expertise to smaller clients who operate on smaller budgets.

Mark is married to Anne Mulligan, the Guild’s executive vice president. They have 3 cats.

SAG: Mark, you are a designer for commercial brands and products and websites. So you have to be creative, but also stay true to concepts that are not your own. How does that work for you?

MH: Graphic design is a mix of right- and left-brain skills. You have to create artwork which has visual appeal but also solves a problem for a client. Problem solving requires using analytical skills simultaneously while thinking creatively. Clients value designers who can successfully apply both skills. In addition I have worked for and alongside many marketing professionals. These people helped teach me how to create a visual message that persuades or sells.

But to answer your question more directly, my background is in sales promotion where the focus is getting the consumer’s attention and not being subtle about it. I enjoy creating these types of designs, whether it’s designing point-of-sale displays or packaging which demands to be noticed on the shelf.

SAG: You’ve worked on products for huge names we’re all familiar with, like Bigelow Tea, Elizabeth Arden, and Subway. These aren’t “similar” brands. What is it about a designer’s style that draws a client to them, do you think?

MH: What gives clients a comfort level with a designer is familiarity with the client’s business. Whether it’s food & beverage, beauty or healthcare, if a client sees examples of brochures, ads or online marketing from their industry in the designer’s portfolio, they will be more willing to assign their design projects to that individual. Every type of business is unique in how they reach their audience or customers. Showing that I understand their visual marketing needs helps close the deal.

Original art by Mark HannonIt also helps if the client unsuccessfully tried to create their own marketing materials by assigning the work to the secretary’s kid. My work will always outshine the secretary’s kid.

SAG: You design for print media, yet also for websites and other digital media. Do you have a preference?

MH: My experience and comfort-level is in print media but I like to push myself out of my comfort zone. Digital media requires a level of technical skill on top of the creative. I have gotten a lot of satisfaction from developing more left-brain skills as part of my design tool set.

SAG: If you get a chance, do you create art for its own sake? For fun or to sell?

I enjoy creating fine art once I am doing it. But getting myself motivated to start a new piece is my biggest hurdle. But I am hoping to have a new piece ready for Art In The Studio.

You can talk to Mark Hannon about his art and design work at our next meeting, or have a look at his portfolio online.

Featured Artist: Sculptor Dave McNeil

sculptor Dave McNeilStratford metal sculptor Dave McNeil studied at the The Sculpture Barn under the guidance of master sculptor David Boyajian.

In 2010, he began showing his work in various galleries and exhibitions in New York and Connecticut. His materials of choice are stainless steel, recycled steel, and stone.

He started out studying painting and illustration at Paier College of Art and received a BA from Southern Connecticut State University in 1989, working his way through various media, including acrylics, oils and pencil. His primary focus was portraiture. He worked for 10 years as police sketch artist.

In addition to commission metal art, he also works in law enforcement.

CAGCT: Dave, you lead a kind of ‘Batman’ life: police officer by day, sculptor by night. How do the two sides of Dave coexist?

DMc: The two sides never seem to meet. Opportunities to blend the two are very rare. The only time I was able to combine the two world was when I worked as a sketch artist. Artistically, I was doing portrait work at the time so I could combine the two.

Working as a sketch artist taught me how to draw the human face accurately. That was in the mid 90’s and the last time I was able to combine my artistic world with my day job. With sculpture there are no opportunities to combine the two, which is fine with me. I prefer my artistic side and my work side to be divorced from each other. I don’t have a problem separating the two. The subject of art never seems to come up when I am working in law enforcement.

CAGCT: Your work is often LARGE pieces of heavy metal. Why not work with something more portable, like, say, feathers?

DMc: I work with metal and stone because I like the permanence of it. The idea that something will be around long after I am. Who knows where one of my sculptures will end up 100 years from now? It could end up in the scrap yard or it could take its place in a park or a garden. Somebody may wonder who created it and look up my name. They might find only this article but I hope there is more to come.

I took up sculpture a little late in life, about six years ago, and I am still learning.

CAGCT: Your ‘business’ is custom metal art, created on commission. What do you work on, for fun, between commissions?

DMc: Between commissions I like to challenge myself by attempting a complicated form and duplicate it.

An example of this would be the fish sculpture I did. I never made a fish before so I wanted to see if I could make it look like it was swimming.

I tried to capture the fluid motion of the fish as it turned in the water. That expanded to the idea of a school of fish swimming together and how the form of the school swimming would look suspended in the air instead of water. I really learn a lot by challenging myself this way. I learn the possibilities hidden in the metal.

CAGCT: What part of the metal art sculpting process do you find most tedious, and the most fun?

DMc: The most tedious part is cleaning up after myself. I make a bit of a mess during the creative process. It doesn’t matter if I am painting or sculpting. Making a mess is also the fun part. I like the whole creative process. Coming up with the initial idea and then having that idea grow into something greater never gets old.

CAGCT: What do your neighbors think of your work?

DMc: My neighbors don’t see much of my work because I work out of my brother’s barn. It is made of cement block so I can’t burn it down when the sparks fly. I did some work in my driveway when I started. It was noisy and I found that with enough heat an asphalt driveway will catch on fire.