Port artist brings talents to the canvas and page

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An example of one of Zalben's pieces, which will be on display at the Bryant Library in September. (Courtesy of the artist).

Jane Breskin Zalben wasn’t thrilled about moving to Port Washington.

Zalben had lived with her husband in the city before she moved to Port 40 years ago to raise her family. With her husband working long nights in the city and not much company, she said the first few months were often lonely. To combat that, she painted and started writing.

“It was such a shock to go from living in the city to suburbia,” she said. “It was a real adjustment for me … I was doing my art, and I started writing more and more.”

Port Washington remains her home base, although Zalben travels all over Long Island to show off her paintings and share her books.

Several of her recent pieces will be on display this month in the Montauk Library Art Gallery. Several of her pieces will be on display at Roslyn’s Bryant Library in September.

She is also represented in the upcoming Long Island Biennial exhibit at the Hecksher Museum in Huntington.

For Port Washington residents, she will be signing copies of her new book, “The Moon for Moe and Mo,” at the Dolphin Bookshop and Cafe in the near future.

Zalben said that painting is something she has been doing practically her entire life. She began taking lessons at the Metropolitan Museum of Art at age 5 and went on to major in art at Queens College. At the time she moved to Port Washington, she taught painting, writing and design at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, a position she held for 18 years.

Her recent work was inspired by the death of her mother. Acrylic paint forms abstract shapes on gauze that Zalben found while cleaning out her mother’s house. She wrote in a post on her website that doing so helped her to heal.

But painting has always been therapeutic for her, she said. Especially after writing and illustrating books.

“The painting is very different from illustrations, where you’re working on these very detailed pieces with your head bending down,” she said. “Painting is more physical… you can move, it has a lot of music in it … it’s a real joy. I get exhausted from standing for many hours but I just love it. It’s hard for me not to do.”

The focus on writing was something that Zalben grew into as an adult. Most of her books are picture stories for children, which allow her another outlet for her illustrations. She said one of her favorite things about Port Washington was all the rabbits in her yard, which inspired some of her works.

“I love drawing the animals and making them act like people,” she said, noting she was inspired by Beatrix Potter, the English author and illustrator behind “The Tale of Peter Rabbit.”

Eventually, Zalben went on to write several young adult novels.

“The novels were an outgrowth of one of my editors saying, ‘I think you’ve got more in you than the 32 or 40 pages of a picture book,'” she said. “So I started doing that as well.”

Her most recent book, “The Moon for Moe and Mo,” tells the story of a Jewish boy and a Muslim boy who become friends after meeting at Sahadi’s grocery store in Brooklyn. Zalben, who is Jewish, decided to hand off illustration duties to Mehrdohkt Amini, a Muslim artist from England.

“The boys get their families to come together for a picnic that falls on Ramadan and Rosh Hashanah, which actually happens about every 30 years … it’s about coming together, and I thought it was important to have a Muslim illustrator for that reason.”

Reach reporter Luke Torrance by email at ltorrance@theislandnow.com, by phone at 516-307-1045, ext. 214, or follow him on Twitter @LukeATorrance.

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