Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts

Coloring outside the lines

Michele L’Heureux ’88, Gallery Director, Art and Art HistoryA studio art major at Wheaton, Michele L’Heureux ’88 has taken a very creative route to a full-time career in art.

She has worked as a carpenter, environmental educator, grant writer, recruiter, marketing manager, copywriter, alumnae/i relations associate and graphic designer. Coming full circle back to Wheaton, she now is the new director of the Beard and Weil Galleries.

She is responsible for planning and executing four to eight exhibitions each academic year. This includes generating ideas and themes for exhibitions, researching artists, conducting studio visits, selecting artists and works for exhibition, collaborating with faculty and students, and handling all the logistics related to installing an exhibition.

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And the winner is… Leah Finkelstein


Leah Finkelstein ’97Leah Finkelstein ’97 has been playing the piano since age 3. Her decades of dedication paid off in a big way last fall. On Sept. 24, 2011, she was named best singer/songwriter at the 2011 Malibu Music Awards, which honor the achievements of successful entertainers, songwriters, publishers and others who contribute positively to the music industry and community at large. Her song “Taking It Slow” from her second full-length LP, “Feigning Composure,” (on the Def Cat Productions label that she launched with her manager) won her the honor. Ironically, Finkelstein, who graduated from Wheaton with a degree in music performance, initially was afraid to sing in front of people. “I had always been an instrumentalist, but singing was always very anxiety-provoking. I performed at open-mic nights, but my mic would always need to be cranked for anyone to hear me. Someone convinced me to try out for the Wheaton Whims, which I didn’t want to do. I am thankful I did. Though I was still too nervous to sing out, I used the opportunity to train my voice and little by little, I gained the confidence I needed to start singing a little louder. Now, I sing too loud, and sometimes I have to pull back from the mic. The friendships I made and getting out of my comfort zone musically were so important and continue to be.” Her talent appears to be coming through loud and clear in a singing style that has been described as “American roots soul” because all of her influences are based in jazz, blues, folk, rock and a little bit of country.

The singer’s first album, “Dear Claudia,” named in her mother’s honor, gained her major recognition, which resulted in Finkelstein and her husband relocating to the West Coast in 2007. Her mother, Claudia Finkelstein, a jazz vocalist who died of cancer in 2005, continues to inspire the singer. “I was extremely close with my mother. Of course, we had music in common, but beyond that, we just really loved each other’s souls. …I dedicated the album and the band to her.”

Grillo’s jewelry makes a statement

Aria Grillo ’05“I knew I loved jewelry making and charity work, but I never thought I would create a career joining the two. It takes experience—and some bumps in the road—to get to that ‘aha!’ moment,” says Aria B. Grillo ’05. For her, that moment occurred when friends and coworkers started to request her custom-made jewelry. She decided to combine her creativity and her generous nature by creating her own company, Ciao Aria, which specializes in what she likes to call “gemerosity.” Ten percent of each purchase made is donated to a charity chosen by the customer. Her unique flair and charitable cause recently caught the attention of Marie Claire magazine, which spotlighted Ciao Aria bracelets in its December issue. Her bracelets were also voted one of the best 100 gifts of 2011 by popsugar.com. By day, Grillo, who graduated from Wheaton with a major in psychology and a minor in studio art, works at the NYU Langone Medical Center in the office of development and corporate fundraising, specializing in pediatrics, oncology and child life. Nights and weekends, she is busy beading and dreaming up new designs from her New York City apartment. Charity work is important to Grillo. In addition to donating profits from Ciao Aria, she also volunteers as a board member for Tuesday’s Children, a charity supporting children who have lost a parent to 9/11. Starting a small business was a challenge. As an artist, she found that “the hardest part was realizing I really needed to create a brand for myself, market the brand, and promote it. It can be very hard at first to promote a product when the product is really personal for you, or the product is you.” But Grillo has found the adventure to be deeply rewarding, saying, “Yes, it is possible to really do what you love to do as a career. It took me some time to figure out what I truly wanted to do, but if you have a passion, pursue it. We need more art and creativity in the world.” She says she is grateful for her Wheaton friends and professors, mentors whom she still calls for advice. To Wheaton students interested in selling their own fashions, she advises, “Wear what you make! I was approached by one of the editors at Marie Claire because she saw my bracelets and loved them.”


To see her jewelry and list of charities, visit ciaoaria.com.

Works of heart

Senior studio art majors showcased their creations in an exhibition in Beard and Weil Galleries this spring, under the direction of faculty advisor Professor Claudia Fieo. “From Mars Art Studios” featured the work of 22 students. Here is a sampling of their creations and artist statements.

Marisa Picariello ’11

Marisa Picariello ’11“I chose to paint some of the broken shells from my collection because I find them to be the most interesting and unique. Every chip and crack reflects how fragile nature can be.”

Dania Piscetta ’11

Dania Piscetta ’11“Currently, there are three major threats to the existence of mankind: global warming, overpopulation and the loss of potable water. In my larger triptych, I depict these three disasters. The scenes I have imagined are futuristic and surreal. I chose to represent the human figure as genderless and bald to symbolize a generic human, a figure that could connect with any audience. Echoing religious representations of the Last Judgment, [Read more...]