By Jan Ohrmundt-Demyen
Claudia McDermott’s artistic abilities were likely influenced by her portrait artist father, concert pianist mother, and uncles who were painters and sculptors, but she went on to develop her own artistic style in oils, watercolors and pen and ink that will be on display at Westmoreland County Museum’s February Art and Wine event. Stop in at the museum for the opening artist’s reception, Wednesday, February 12 from 5 to 7 p.m., and visit the Inn at Montross where some pieces will also be on display. The exhibit will continue through March 8.
“I was always around art, and my mother, Eleanor Grillo Proto made sure my sister and I visited the art museums in New York City. I remember I was about 13 when I started being more serious about it,” McDermott, who grew up in the Bronx, recalled. In fact, she still has a few pieces from those early years.
McDermott describes her art as allegorical, and designs her own compositions for these one-picture stories. To help in that process, she travels with a camera, taking “a gazillion photos of things I like. Then I use them to compose what just strikes me as right. It’s like I want to get you this gift, but no one has made one like it yet, so I have to search around for the right components.”
A very local example is a painting she titled “Coming Home,” which depicts Robert E. Lee leading his horse back to the present-day Stratford Hall. The idea came to her after hearing the story about Lee, as a child leaving Stratford in 1811, telling the angels carved into one of the fireplaces at the mansion, that he would be back.
“A sense of color is important to me as I paint, and as I’m working on a painting I feel impassioned about having it turn out a certain way. For each one, while working on it, it’s the most important one,” she shared.
Although her degrees are in education, special education and psychology, and she worked for about 20 years as a special education teacher, she received art lessons from her father, Guido Proto, now 98, and her uncles, and took art classes with her father at the Frank Covino Academy of Art in Connecticut.
It’s a bit of serendipity that the artist will be showing her landscape, seascape and still life works at the museum that proudly displays several United States Presidents’ busts by the renowned Attilio Piccirilli. He also helped create The Leonardo da Vinci Art School in NYC that her uncle attended, and it was a pleasant surprise to find Piccirilli’s work in her new home county in Virginia.
McDermott and her husband, Rob, supportive and proud of her work, bought land in Vaughan’s Landing in 2001 and moved here in 2002. They are partners in Luna restaurant in Callao, where not only her artwork, but that of her father and two uncles add to the Mediterranean flair.
Her work has also been on display during the Colonial Beach Art Walks, at the Potomac River Fisheries Commission in Colonial Beach and during Montross Fall Festival.