We’re launching our 2022 Summer Student Interview with my longtime former art student Jeffrey Cantamessa.

As an art instructor, it is pure joy to stay in touch with students who studied at length at my studio. I delight when I come across their Facebook and Instagram posts about their accomplishments and projects from time to time.

Jeffrey was an avid illustrator and painter of architectural images back in the day. His artwork graced many of the school’s student art showcases. It’s no surprise he fulfilled his dream to become an architect. (Proud art teacher moment.) 🙂

I was intrigued by his posts about a New York City diorama he had constructed. I originally thought it might have been a work assignment. However, when he announced his diorama had been selected by the Los Angeles Art Association for display at Gallery 825, I had to learn more. When I reached out to Jeffrey with an invitation to be interviewed about his diorama’s exhibit, he graciously accepted my invitation. I’m pleased to introduce you to Jeffrey Cantamessa and let you in on his exhibit.

LRW: Our history goes back to the early days of Pastimes’ studio opening. Do you happen to remember how old you were when you started art classes with me? Had you ever studied art before?

JC: From what I remember, I was roughly 10 years old. I had never really studied art before, but was constantly drawing and painting in my spare time.

LRW: Fond memories. I remember you were enamored with architecture from the start. Now you have earned a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Pratt Institute and have landed a job as a Designer/Draftsman at Rachlin Partners. I’m so proud of you! When did the idea to become an architect actually begin? What was or were the inspiration(s)?

JC: I had alway held a fascination with buildings in my youth. I can fondly remember making trips to New York for family gatherings and being amazed as I walked through the streets of Manhattan. The towering skyscrapers, with their rooftop spires and corinthian columns lining the grand entrances, were unlike anything I had seen back home in California. I quickly started composing an endless stream of illustrations depicting various landmarks – from the Empire State Building and Brooklyn Bridge to the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. While vacationing in Chicago, I visited the original residence of renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright and learned the history of his inspirational Prairie Style homes and emphasis on elongated geometries. My parents encouraged me to pursue this field as a profession.

LRW: Wonderful inspiration. I’m a longtime fan of Frank Lloyd Wright as well having visited his Taliesen West winter home and desert laboratory years ago. So nice your folks fed your passion. As an art teacher, I’m intrigued by your New York City diorama. How exciting to learn it has been selected by the Los Angeles Art Association for display at Gallery 825 in Los Angeles. I understand the opening ceremony was July 9th from 10:00am – 5:00pm. So sorry I was unable to attend. For my readers, what was the inspiration to create the diorama? Did it begin as a work assignment, a project from your days at Pratt or just a personal passion to create it?

JC: It all began during the COVID-19 lockdown. With movie theaters and restaurants closed to the public, I needed to keep myself occupied while at home. Having come across several websites featuring intricate dioramas constructed by independent artists, I thought about taking on a miniature project of my own. Using wood and paint collected from local arts & crafts shops, I started constructing the iconic subway station entrance with two lamp posts, eventually adding a sidewalk with building facades and a hot dog cart. The pedestrians, subway car and newspaper kiosks would follow in time. It’s both a personal project and a byproduct of the pandemic.

LRW: Glad you found this creative outlet during that gloomy stressful time. Very professional work. Your attention to detail is outstanding. May I ask, is this a standalone project, or will you be creating more dioramas in the near future? If so, would you be willing to share which cities or city will be featured?

JC: More creations are in the works. I’ve already begun a diorama of London, England.

Jeffrey Cantamessa interviewed by Pastimes for a Lifetime, Inc.

LRW: Fantastic! I look forward to seeing your future creations. There are many art galleries out there. How did Gallery 825 discover your diorama? Is this their first diorama in their collection?

JC: I submitted an application for membership with the gallery a few months ago. It was soon accepted after they viewed high resolution images of my miniature street. This is not only my very first diorama, but also the first time my artwork is being displayed in a public gallery.

LRW: Nice! Congratulations on both. Creating a diorama is quite a process. Can you please describe to my students and readers how you went about creating your New York City diorama? What materials comprise it?

JC: The miniature is made primarily of bass wood, the same material I used for architectural models back in college. Wood glue and hot glue guns served as the primary adhesives. While I did consult diagrams and planning charts for sidewalk dimensions and subway platform heights, no conceptual drawings or sketches were made prior to construction. I basically just imagined what it would look like in my head and then started building.

LRW: Fascinating. That’s amazing you were able to work from your imagination rather than from sketches. Although, I was hoping to see your sketches if they did exist. 🙂 Speaking of sketching, may I ask what impact did your art classes at Pastimes have on your architecture career and design of your diorama?

JC: Pastimes taught me that truly great work can’t be achieved without patience and perseverance. I ultimately spent two solid years building and detailing my diorama before I felt it could justifiably be displayed. The process certainly took longer than I initially thought.

LRW: Aww, thank you for sharing that. Time well spent. In closing, do you have a favorite quote, mantra or process that you find inspiring or helpful when faced with a creative block or frustration, that you would like to share with my readers?

JC: I have two from one of my favorite painters, Edward Hopper:

“Great art is the outward expression of an inner life in the artist, and this inner life will result in his personal vision of the world.” - Edward Hopper Share on X “No amount of skillful invention can replace the essential element of imagination.” - Edward Hopper Share on X

LRW: Thank you, Jeffrey. Funny coincidence – we just published an Art History 101 blog on Edward Hopper last week! Perfect timing. I remember your enjoying studying Hopper’s architectural paintings at the studio. Best wishes with your career, future dioramas and all other creative endeavors. I look forward to sharing your successes with my students and readers.

You can follow Jeffrey on his social media platforms:
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Did you enjoy this interview? If so, your comments below are sincerely appreciated. Please feel free to share it with others, too.

For more on Pastimes for a Lifetime’s Art Curriculum and founder/instructor Linda Wehrli, visit the website.

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