The Art Guild of Port Washington, located in Manhasset, has become an accolade-rich artistic community, thanks to the intertwined journeys of two artists, Shelley Holtzman and Illene Silberstein. Together, the decades-long acclaimed painters have worked together as co-presidents to build the guild from four to 410 members.
Holtzman has been instrumental in shaping the guild’s direction and fostering its growth. Her artistic passion started during her time as an art director in TV and print advertising after graduating from the University of Michigan.
She always enjoyed using markers to create big bold lines and decided one day to take some classes in the area. Then she discovered her love for vibrant, bursting flowers.
“Once I realized I really loved flowers,” she said, “I’m going to paint them. That’s how I started.” Now she oil paints full time in her retirement and says the key to painting is “all about observation.”
In 1999, when the guild was still in its infancy with only four members, Holtzman discovered the budding organization. Throughout her tenure as co-president, Holtzman has played a pivotal role in strategy, event planning, and show organization alongside Silberstein. Their dedication and unwavering support has enabled the guild to evolve from a small, volunteer-based endeavor into a prominent artistic institution with a dedicated staff.
In 2007, the guild acquired a building, the Elder Fields Preserve, from Nassau County, providing a dedicated studio space for local artists.
Holtzman’s artistic style is characterized by her vibrant and bold use of color. While initially drawn to watercolor, she later explored oil and acrylic, finding joy in creating unique landscapes with fantastical elements, blending the beauty of nature with imaginative portrayals of animals.
Her artistic endeavors extend beyond the guild, as she’s also a member of the National Association of Women Artists and the Port Washington Art Advisory Council. Holtzman’s artistic prowess has garnered recognition, with her winning the “Second Best Painter” award and the guild winning “Best Art School and Gallery.”
For Holtzman, art is a means of bringing joy to both herself and viewers. Her vibrant palette and distinctive style aim to elicit smiles and evoke positive emotions.
“I just do it because it makes me feel good,” she said. “And, hopefully, I’ll make somebody else feel good.”
Silberstein, recipient of the esteemed “Painter of the Year” award, embarked on a different artistic journey before finding her calling as a painter. She initially pursued a career in clothing design at Aileen, a now defunct clothing brand, specializing in knitwear and separates.
Her love for flowers bloomed, however, when she was working as a florist at John Smith Flowers in Port Washington on the weekends while taking care of two babies at home. This led her to explore painting, a medium through which she could capture the delicate and always shifting beauty of nature.
Silberstein joined the Art Guild about a year after Holtzman. Through the guild, she found an environment conducive to the exchange of ideas and artistic inspiration. Silberstein said she cherishes the camaraderie among fellow artists, emphasizing how the supportive community helps artists recognize and address aspects they may have missed.
“When I have a success, all the people around me feel good, and when somebody else has success, I feel good about them. It’s really wonderful.”
In 2011, the guild faced a setback when a fire triggered by electrical pole polarity reversal during Hurricane Irene destroyed their building. During rebuilding and planning the guild’s future, they both sent out a survey asking the community what they thought of the guild and its eventual return. An overwhelming response from the community was sent back to them, expressing their support and longing for the guild’s return.
Silberstein’s artistic style is deeply rooted in observation and realism. Trained under David Laffel and other celebrated artists, she embraces traditional techniques and paints directly from life. Inspired by her second home in Patchogue and the blooming flowers it offers, Silberstein captures the beauty of nature with meticulous detail. She expresses her fascination, saying, “I could paint roses forever.”
Looking ahead, both Holtzman and Silberstein envision a future for the guild that includes expansion and increased resources. They hope to acquire more space for creativity, additional classes, and more outreach programs for nonprofits such as the Nicholas Center for Autism, which uses their space.
Providing a platform for talented local artists to showcase their work cannot be underestimated, Silberstein said, along with the transformative power of art not only on the individual artist but the community as a whole.
“I think people don’t realize that if you’re involved in the arts,” Silberstein said, “and it could be music, it could be any kind of arts, it really helps you to live your life better, it helps you to problem solve better, I think there’s a real tangible benefit from being involved in the arts in some way.”
She also said she is always surprised and happy when first-time visitors from Manhasset, Roslyn and Port Washington, for example, are astounded by the quality of a gallery show.
“It just makes me feel really good that we’re opening those doors for people,” Silberstein said.