SKANEATELES | Those living in Onondaga County were able to take part in an opportunity for creative expression at the Skaneateles Library on Saturday.

Under the guidance of artist Maria Rizzo, those who stopped by contributed to a painting of a tree representing Onondaga County.

"The branches are shaping the perimeter of Onondaga County," Rizzo said, explaining the painting. "The tree is set on a hill because the word 'Onondaga' means 'on the hill' or 'people on the hill.'"

Her goal is to promote nature appreciation and share painting techniques with whoever stops in to contribute to the artwork.

Rizzo was able to do the project when she received a grant from the 2014 Individual Art Commission Decentralization Program. The painting of the tree is the second part of the project.

For the first part this year, residents sent in photos of the most beautiful and majestic trees they could find throughout the county. These photos can be sent in to Rizzo until Oct. 31.

She will select eight of them and paint a picture of each photo. Those whose pictures are selected will receive a print of Rizzo's final portrait.

Rizzo will go to a different library in the county every Saturday or Sunday for the next four months so that county residents can finish it little by little.

"I applied for the grant in October," she said. "I think I got it because I wanted to evolve in the community."

Rizzo, who was born in Bologna Italy, began her art career when she attended a high school specializing in art. She moved to the United States in 2007 and continued pursuing art at Syracuse University.

"I am a stay-at-home mom and a full-time painter," she said. "I balance the two. I love connecting with others and involving them in the creative process, and I have a love for trees."

Her main focus is this project, but soon she hopes to bring a more personal touch to her art.

"In the future, my goal is to do paintings that involve my life more," she said. "I would like to do self-portraits and paintings of people. I do love to portray emotions, and I want to express my true voice on canvas." 

She named Frida Kahlo as one of her inspirations.

"We have a lot in common," Rizzo said. "I was diagnosed with scoliosis when I was young. It gives me daily pain, and I wore braces for so long. ... I fell in love with Frida's work in high school. She had an accident and injured her spine, and she started painting."

One of her favorite of Kahlo's paintings is a self-portrait called "The Broken Column." In the painting, Kahlo's spine is represented as a Greek column full of cracks and her body is full of nails, each one representing a time her husband had an affair.

Rizzo's next visit will take place at the Onondaga Free Library from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Sunday, May 4. Rizzo encourages citizens in the area to stop by and contribute to the piece.

"I am here to answer any questions," she said. "Thirteen people or so have already put some work into this. It's interesting to see the direction this painting is going."

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Skaneateles Journal editor Jonathan Monfiletto can be reached at jonathan.monfiletto@lee.net or 283-1615. Follow him on Twitter @Skan_Monfiletto.

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