The Weehawken Library is bringing back a popular series of artist exhibitions with a display of works by local resident Janet Brignola-Tava and her family. Alongside paintings, collages and other pieces by Ms. Brignola-Tava are artworks by her husband, Eugene Tava. Even their daughter Alexandria Tava, a music DJ under the name Tava Luv, contributed a painting to the exhibit.
Each displays a highly personal style, from Eugene’s stylized animals and meticulous pen and ink work to Janet’s muted colors, found objects, and montages. Spanning numerous media, styles, sizes, and formats, the family’s artistry fills a gallery at the rear of the library and an adjoining room.
At the opening on Sunday, Oct. 6, visitors pored over the richly detailed artwork.
“It is always our goal to enlighten and enrich the lives of our community,” said Librarian Holly Pizzuta, noting that artist exhibits were always extremely popular with visitors. This current presentation is the first in a projected series that will showcase works by other established and emerging artists from the area.
Tava-Brignola has been painting professionally since she was 19 years old. After studying at the School of Visual Arts, where she met her husband, she answered an ad in the New York Times calling for an artist.
“I went for the job and I got it. And I could never really figure out what I was going to do in this job, cause it never really told me. But my salary was $2.75 an hour,” she said with a smile. “I went downstairs and it was six floors of artists doing the most magnificent paintings. I thought I’d died and went to heaven. I showed up the next morning and in six floors there were two women. Two old women. One ordering supplies, one putting the nail heads in upholstery.”
After discussing the situation with her family, Tava steeled herself for the task ahead.
“I was asked to work under a pen-name for 10 years because they never believed an Italian-American female would ever make it as a painter,” she said. “And my dad said, you turn those paintings around, and write you name on the bottom and date it, and that’s what I did. Hundreds and hundreds of paintings. Twelve years as this guy Chung who was on a sabbatical and learning Buddhism. I’d sit in all these meetings with the architects and I had to make believe I was [Chung’s] assistant writing notes.”
Then one day she was painting a mural at the Hawaiian Hilton when a group of Asian investors arrived.
“I was in my usual crappy clothes all covered with paint, and they asked me where the artist, where Chung was. I’m in the elevator thinking, well I could get fired if I tell them.”
Nonetheless, she fessed up.
“I said Hello, I’m Chung. They said, no you’re not. I said, yes I am… Come up and I’ll show you the mural.”
Times had changed. She didn’t get fired. “The studio was split by the time I left. Fifty percent women, 50 percent men. It was not an easy road.”
In her years working undercover, Brignola-Tava learned and perfected decorative painting techniques, adapting ancient Chinese designs for modern use in innovative and award-winning hand-painted wallpapers, textiles and murals, as displayed at the library exhibit. Currently she works in acrylic and oils to create her paintings while continuing to produce murals on the ceilings and walls of many historic buildings.
“I was asked to do the Children’s Chapel at Marble [Collegiate Church], the only woman in America to do a chapel,” said Brignola-Tava. While she was completing the painting, one of the other workers on the site came over and admiringly asked to shake her hand.
“I said sure. The mural was very technical but it was very difficult to achieve. And he said, you know you’re a local legend in the city. And I said really? And he said you gave all those women a career. He said Second Avenue is filled with all these women and they’re making more money than the men and I just want to shake your hand and say thank you, because you really gave them an industry. And I thought how sweet is that, to start at this place where they told me I couldn’t even sign my name, to this place where somebody’s saying you gave these women a career.“
Ms. Brignola-Tava is currently collaborating on a book about breaking the glass ceiling as a woman in a male dominated industry.
The Weehawken Public Library is located at 49 Hauxhurst Avenue. The Tava exhibit runs through Oct. 20.
“They never believed an Italian-American female would ever make it as a painter.” – Janet Tava-Brignola