Artist finds true outlet in a familiar setting

By sherry conohan
Staff Writer

By sherry conohan
Staff Writer

CHRIS KELLY Lisa Collora D’Averso’s work on an outdoor mural at Monmouth Medical Center, Long Branch, depicting a day in the life of the county, has been hampered by this summer’s wet weather, but her efforts have been buoyed by the encouragement of passers-by.CHRIS KELLY Lisa Collora D’Averso’s work on an outdoor mural at Monmouth Medical Center, Long Branch, depicting a day in the life of the county, has been hampered by this summer’s wet weather, but her efforts have been buoyed by the encouragement of passers-by.

In the most public of venues, Lisa Collora D’Averso has been painting the masterpiece, thus far, of her still young artistic career.

Standing outdoors on a roof at Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch, with brush in one hand and palette in the other, she has been creating panel after panel of a mural that will fill a 110-foot-long wall and wrap around the corner at either end for another 35 feet on each side.

The mural is depicting "Sunrise to Sunset: A Summer Day in Monmouth County."

The developing work of art has attracted the attention of employees and visitors at Monmouth Medical Center alike, who pause to watch D’Averso at work as they walk down the "Broadway Corridor" on the second floor, at the top of the escalator from the lobby. Its floor-to-ceiling windows look out on the wall being painted.

"Working out here is a constant performance," D’Averso said as she adjusted her stand on the rocks covering the roof. "Most artists don’t like to do that. They don’t like to show their work until they’re done. I like the public seeing my work. Everybody’s so positive. It’s inspiring."

Many of the indoor passers-by knock on the glass to get D’Averso’s attention and give her the thumbs up or another sign of approval. She said they include some patients who ask to be brought down in wheelchairs to watch her progress on the mural.

A native of Monmouth Beach who now lives in West Long Branch, D’Averso works at the mercy of the elements and has been slowed by the continuous rain over this wet summer.

"I should be two panels ahead, maybe three panels," she said, if not for the rain.

She began prep work on the mural in April, really got going in May, and figures she can work up until mid-October before it gets too cold to paint. She hopes to get the main wall done by then.

What doesn’t get done this year will be finished up next spring, she said.

D’Averso initially was going to paint only the side of the wall facing the corridor. Then, she said, she realized the people using the ATM machine at the end of the hallway where the mural begins would look outside and see a blank, dank wall around the corner on the side, so she painted a pleasant window with wooden shutters on it, at an appropriate angle for their sight line, to fill that void. She similarly plans to paint a panel around the corner at the other end of the wall to greet the people coming down the hall from that direction. That panel will have goldfinches – the state bird – in it, inspired by the birds at the feeder in her sister’s yard.

"My sister has a lot at her feeder," D’Averso explained. "They’re so pretty."

D’Averso began the mural by painting the wall that encloses the air-conditioning equipment to look like it was made of bricks. She left arched panels for the summer scenes she would paint and painted window boxes of colorful flowers between the panels before starting the scenes.

The scenes she has completed so far include the "cornerstone" with the name of the theme of the mural; a surf fisherman at the Bath Avenue beach at sunrise, representing 6 a.m.; the boardwalk at West End with walkers on it, representing 7 a.m.; golfers on the 18th hole at Deal Country Club with the flowers there, representing 8 to 8:30 a.m.; and a farm stand with a tractor owned by Dorothy Smith, at Route 34 and Laird Road, representing 10:30 to 11 a.m.

"I figure you go to the farm stand and get some vegetables, get some flowers, and then you go to see your friend in the hospital," she said.

The panel she’s working on now shows the entrance to Monmouth Medical Center at mid-day.

The light changes in each panel as the day moves on, she noted.

"There will be a lot of warmth, a lot of light" in the MMC panel because it’s mid-day, she added.

"This is a great country," she said. "I’m proud to be an American. I’m hopeful that when this is done, people will feel good and have a positive feeling" about themselves and where they live.

For D’Averso, a graduate of the Monmouth Beach School, Shore Regional High School and the University of San Diego, this project has brought her full circle from her college and graduate school education in the scientific and medical fields, through the time out she took to raise her four children, all boys, ages 8 to 14, to her hesitant venturing forth as an artist just four years ago, to marrying her talent in art with her medical background at a hospital.

D’Averso said she’s been drawing all of her life, and it was the constant prodding of her dad, Gene Collora, whose mother was an artist and muralist, that made her get serious about her art.

Her father, and her mother, Edla, a retired school nurse, still live in Monmouth Beach.

D’Averso said she was encouraged to use her artistic talents in high school when an aptitude test showed she was artistic and suited for the outdoors.

"I thought ‘landscaping,’ but I already had done that," she said, explaining that she had worked caring for lawns in sixth through eighth grades. "It was a lot of work, but I never didn’t cut the grass when it rained because my clients were friends of my parents."

At the University of San Diego, she majored in biology and minored in chemistry.

"Many of my teachers said, ‘Lisa, you should go into medical illustration,’ " she noted.

After graduation from college, she went backpacking in Europe with three friends, visiting many museums, before coming home and entering graduate school at Rutgers University.

"I got to see a lot of great works of art," she said.

At Rutgers, D’Averso studied medical physiology for a year, then went to Jersey Shore School of Medical Technology for a year of intense training, which she enjoyed very much. She said she particularly liked the lab work. A doctor there encouraged her to go medical school

"I asked her how long it took her to become a doctor and she said she began at my age – 26 then – and she graduated at 37," D’Averso related. "I was engaged then, and I knew I was going to have children" and wasn’t ready for such a long haul.

"I always knew I was going to be a mom. And I knew I was going to have all boys," she said.

D’Averso married Frank D’Averso Jr. and they have four boys, Frank III, 14; Gene, 12; Adrian, 9, and Anthony, 8.

Listening to her father, D’Averso finally took up a brush and began painting four years ago. She had her first exhibition at the Monmouth Beach Cultural Center two years ago and has another show at the Cultural Center now that runs through Sept. 14. Her works have included flowers and scenes of Monmouth University.

She got her break at MMC when a friend, who works in the emergency room, called her a year ago last June to say the doctors there were looking for someone to donate a mural for the pediatric emergency express waiting area. The friend urged D’Averso to get samples of her work over to thehospital – pronto – which she did. The doctors were Dr. Gloria Jacome and Dr. Todd Mastrovitch and she was given the go-ahead. She chose to paint a tidal pool on the beach left by a wave with children playing in it, a scene she had seen so often growing up at the Shore.

"I wrapped the whole room in a beach theme," she said.

"I have four boys and I’ve been to the emergency room a million times," she added.

The hospital held a reception to celebrate her emergency room painting and during it Dr. Frank Vozos, the executive director of MMC, took D’Averso aside.

"He said, ‘Lisa, I want you to take a walk with me’ and he showed me this," she said with a sweep of her hand to what then was a blank wall outside the "Broadway Corridor."

"He said, ‘I’ve been waiting for seven years for the artist to paint this, and it’s you.’ I was very surprised that he showed such an interest in my work."

D’Averso said she thought about what to put on the wall for two weeks and then the idea came to her to do a day in the life of Monmouth County theme.

When she began painting four years ago, D’Averso used water colors. A year and a half ago, she turned to oils and, she said, her art grew. She’s using acrylics for the mural and likes their color.

While studying medical technology at Jersey Shore, she said she had to take a test for color blindness and the teacher marveled at how well she could see colors.

"I remember in my studies that you have to see color well in order to paint," she said. "I found light was the key. If you stay in the light key and use the right colors your painting will stay in harmony. When I go to museums, I’m always drawn to paintings with a lot of color."

D’Averso said she knew when she took the job of painting the mural it would be the rainiest summer ever. "And it has been," she observed.

She said the 8-by-6-foot panels she’s painting don’t put her off by their size.

"I like to work large," she explained.

She said she hopes to do more of this type of work. She’s already been asked – and has done – artwork in the Pollak Clinic for Behavioral Health at MMC, where she used her paints to create a beach house atmosphere, and has been approached by the Pain and Palliative Care unit of the hospital to possibly do a mural there.

She believes she was "definitely meant’ to paint the present mural.

"It provides a temporary sanctuary for the viewer," she said, explaining her aim.

"I would never be able to do this job without my family," she stressed. "They’re happy that I’m doing this, especially my youngest son. He’s so proud that mommy paints."