Interview By Ella Rue
Illustration by Dar Hosta
Portrait Photographs by Deborah Gichan
Interview first appeared in UCDA’s Designer magazine (Vol. 37, Issue 3, Fall 2012)
Dar Hosta (pronounced with a long o) is a fine artist as well as an award-winning children’s book author and illustrator. The elder of two daughters, Dar grew up in a home that was very artsy and creative with a father who was a professional illustrator and a mother with numerous crafty hobbies. She was born in Wisconsin, grew up in Missouri, lived for a while in Ohio, and now calls central New Jersey her home. She has become renowned and respected throughout New Jersey, earning many accolades and awards for her fine art and her children’s books (with seven completed and several others in various stages of creation), as well as recognition for her captivating creative spirit.
Above and beyond all of this, Dar is also an educator. She is a galvanizer, a cheerleader of sorts, teaching and encouraging both children and adults to create in a variety of venues including school programs, educational conferences, professional development, and workshops. As a child, she wanted to be a teacher. When she grew up a little, she wanted to be a poet and a short-story writer. When she grew up a little more than that, she wanted to be an artist. She’s all of those things and so much more. She touches countless people with her art and with her seemingly boundless energy, creativity and generous spirit. Perhaps she is lucky to realize so many of her dreams so early in life, but those she works with, the ones she teaches and touches, are the luckiest of all.
Hosta says working with children is easy because they still have their natural curiosity and willingness to create and ‘pretend,’ but she believes working with adults is equally rewarding—if only for the fact that sometimes, from a creative perspective, the years have hardened them. They no longer have that child-like wonder and belief that they can create something beautiful and magical. It’s those ‘a-ha’ moments when a finished piece of art is viewed and adults are transformed and stare incredulously at what they created! Somehow, no matter how hardened and unbelieving an adult may have become, if they can hang on through the process, they are ultimately mesmerized by the outcome.
There is something about Dar’s process that reminds me of when eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon wrote her letter to the editor of the New York Sun in the late 1800s: “DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?” and the quick response was printed as an unsigned editorial Sept. 21, 1897.
“VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIA’S. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
No Santa Claus! Thank God! He lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”
Talking to Dar, I realized just how much she is like the editor of the New York Sun. She is an encourager of belief, a teacher of talent, and a squelcher of apprehensions and fears. She re-imagines, re-ignites, and reinforces the inner child in everyone she comes in contact with. Her students, both children and adults are renewed with a belief in their own abilities because of her contagious energy and enthusiasm.
Now Dar can add to (and ultimately cross off) her bucket list the following:
- short story writer
- fine artist
- mural artist
- project manager
- art director
- book and graphic designer
The projects that inspire Dar the most are the ones in which she is able to work with larger groups of children and/or adults for a concentrated period of time, to create original artwork to bring awareness and funds to worthy causes. She creates publishing projects from artwork created by the participants and big murals that grace school hallways as legacy pieces or go to auction to raise funds for art and writing programs. As an artist-in-residence that typically lasts between a week and two, she will organize, art-direct, and motivate the participants to create writing in various genres and artwork in different media. She earns a flat fee for the hands-on workshop instruction and project direction, with the remainder of funds going to raise awareness and funds for the given project. Following the completion of the project, there may be an ‘artist’s reception,’ where the participants and she, as the coordinator and impetus, are interviewed. A few of the places Dar has done residencies are:
- Community Park School, Princeton, New Jersey (10 years)
- Johnson Park School, Princeton, New Jersey (10 years)
- Tewksbury Elementary School, Tewksbury, New Jersey (5 years)
- Miami Country Day School, Miami, Florida (4 years)
- Chaney High School, Youngstown, Ohio (2 years)
Next on her bucket list of career titles she would like to grow into: more of an ‘arts administrator’—taking proposals and placing artists to make these larger-scaled artist-in-residence projects happen in more locations. She says: “I can do this! I’d like to connect with a photographer, a writer, a painter, or a sculptor because I know what it takes to make these projects successful! I would match the right artist with the right project.” She gets a wonderful sense of accomplishment with each project she is involved with and inherently knows how many hands it takes to make a huge project a huge success. She never claims personal responsibility for the victory of these projects either, but somehow everyone knows they couldn’t happen without Dar’s magic.
Often, when she works with kids, she starts with words and later moves to the images. First they word associate together, just to get them to let down their guard. The poetry method is one she invented and she calls it the “Six Minute Poem.” Kids pick their own topics, something they love and know a lot about, and work with a partner, continuing the word-association game on a stopwatch, now as a game. One child lists words while the other writes, and then, after they have collected 18 words that are associated with each other, they fill in the “poetry” together. They then switch roles and the result is that, through this process, each child ends up with his or her own poem. The children are often surprised and amazed with the outcome because the six minutes truly yield POEMS.
Dark Night by Israel, Grade 5
The scary willow spiders crawl at night.
Green, ugly zombies pop out of the ground.
Pale vampires look for blood.
The foggy graveyards are creepy and noisy with bats that fly from tree to tree...through the night.
Day by Phillip, Grade 5
At the park, playing children climb the trees,
Swinging and making sandcastles in the sand,
Laughing and screaming in the grass.
Red cars drive by beeping their horns so loud they hurt my ears.
Cars by Daniel, Grade 3
The large fast engine is roaring,
The big wheels are rolling
The nice, shiny windows are wiping rain.
The steering wheels are honking loudly,
The radio is talking about news.
Summer by Allison, Grade 5
You can drink sweet fresh water near the nice cooling pool
While you splash and have fun at the beach.
How exhausted you get depends on how much you swim and flip and dive.
And from these poems art is both born and then inspired.
Earlier this summer Dar presented at a conference in Washington DC for the American Horticultural Society’s Youth & Children’s Garden Symposium. It’s the 30th anniversary of this event, and she hopes to gauge the audience’s interest in duplicating this process for school districts, park systems, or local community gardens. Any interested organization can benefit from her programs. The local community gets a community organizer and activist, the local children become involved in their community, and in the end beautiful artwork is created—a win-win-win! She can work with any age group interested—from elementary school children to adults!
Finally, lest the reader is left to believe everything about Dar is sunshine and roses, she is also in the process of attempting to license her latest body of work called Cranky Birds. She admits they are really her alter ego’s creations and she would like nothing more than for them to appear in the form of greeting cards to entertain and highlight her slightly darker side. They are a flock of birds that rant about that which is in need of a rant and offer an artistic outlet for a creative person who admittedly gets just a little cranky. But, on any given day, who amongst is isn’t? There is a delightfully amusing charm even about the most cranky of them.
Yes VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus, and thankfully, there is also a Dar Hosta! Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Dar Hosta… no one to encourage others, no one to make beautiful paintings, collages and books, no one to inspire others to grow and build, paint and create their own creative dreams.