Living as art

Special performance in downtown Rochester results from collaboration between Notre Dame's visual and theatre arts departments.

In an old episode of the popular TV show, Gilmore Girls, which ran on the WB Television Network for seven years, the community of Stars Hollow and all of its quirky citizens held a "festival of living art," where the characters posed as famous paintings for art lovers to admire and appreciate. 

As both an art lover and fan of the TV show, Tonia Carsten, who is the owner of Tonia's Victorian Rose, a tea shop and restaurant in downtown Rochester, thought it might be fun to combine two of her favorite pastimes in a special event in the tea room.

So she contacted Lauren Zajdel, who is the visual arts teacher in Marist Academy's middle school, who in turn got Meredith Scott, NDPMA's theatre director, involved. The two of them then selected 10 famous pieces of art that required 13 students they handpicked from both the upper and middle schools. They also rounded up three additional students who helped with make-up, Siena Moccia (12), Lucas Husch (10) and Abby Kot (12).

"We tended to go with students who had a theatrical background because there was little to no time to rehearse, said Scott, who looked for students who would best fit the art they chose.

Carsten said she was excited to be able to finally host a Gilmore Girls 'Living Art' Tea. 

"It was an idea I had when I first opened the tea room, but it took a special partnership to finally pull it off," she said. "Ms. Zajdel and Ms. Scott did a great job organizing the kids and with their makeup and costumes."

Zajdel said that Carsten's idea was fun to work on. 

"Most of the townspeople from the Gilmore show dressed up as famous artwork in either a group, couple or solo," she said. "It was a great experience for the students, and it was such a perfect opportunity for Meredith and me to combine our resources and collaborate together."

Notre Dame Prep senior Abigail (Abby) Kot, who portrayed the wife in Grant Wood's famous painting, American Gothic," also said it was a great experience.

"As an up-and-coming art history major in college and Gilmore Girls fan, this was a very exciting event for me to take part in," she said. "I would love to see NDP's theatre program continue doing things like this in the future."

Luke Scheer, a Marist Academy eighth grader who played the husband to Kot's "American Gothic" wife, said it was different than acting on a stage in a school play.

"It was a unique experience because I am used to only performing in front of mostly school parents," he said. "But I did have a lot of fun and actually looked forward to getting up early for the event. Which says a lot, since I'm not really a morning person."

For tea room owner Carsten, who took the reins of the long-standing establishment in December of 2016, she was glad Scheer, Kot and the other Notre Dame students got up "early" to do the show — which began at 10 a.m. on a Saturday (April 13).

"I was happy to see that many of the kids were already Gilmore Girls fans and also were very enthusiastic about this project," she said. "They also were very knowledgeable about the artwork they were portraying. My guests were really loving the exhibition! I think projects like this one reinforce and demonstrate the importance of art and its role in everyday life. I look forward to holding more events like this in the future."

About the art, artist and student models (photos below):

PABLO PICASSO Ritratto di Dora Maar 1937 Location: Musee d'Orsay, Paris Student model: Alex Spevetz, 9th grade Dora Maar was one of the most well-known inspirational muses for Picasso mainly with the tone of his paintings that represented pain. Maar herself was a famous street photographer with work that documented social inequalities from Parisian people. Their love affair was turbulent, and included controlling, jealous behavior. It resulted with Maar going “mad” shortly after Picasso pursues a new woman.

VINCENT VAN GOGH Self Portrait 1889 Location: Musee d'Orsay, Paris Student model: Brooke Bandy, 11th grade One of 40 self-portrait paintings of post-impressionist artist, Vincent Van Gogh, presumably one of his last self-portraits before his death in 1890. In his 10-year career as an artist, Van Gogh created 2,100 artworks, most painted in the last 2 years of his life. Despite his output of work, he never gained commercial success. He was known for being a madman and a failure, suffering from mental illness and poverty most of his adult life. Van Gogh’s work didn’t reach success until much later after death.

BANKSY Love is in the Air (Flower Thrower) 2003 Location: Jerusalem Student model: John Milback, 8th grade It is one of many graffiti paintings located on the 760-kilometre wall that separates the Palestinian West Bank from Israel. By replacing a weapon with a bouquet of flowers, Banksy is advocating peace over war. The work carries the message that peace comes with “active hard work” in times of the high-conflict area. “Flower Thrower” is arguably one of his most iconic and most sought-after artworks that have been reproduced as posters, phone covers, T-shirts by shopkeepers all over the world.

ANDY WARHOL Marilyn 1967 Location: Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art 2, Edinburgh-on loan Student model: Julia Weilant, 10th grade Warhol’s portfolio series of the famous actress, Marilyn Monroe, consists of 2 major themes: death and the cult of a celebrity. He started his Monroe series shortly after her death in 1962. Warhol purposely used vibrant color schemes to emphasize Monroe’s trademark looks like her hair and red lipstick. The process took 5 different screens for printing, giving the impression of artificiality and industrial production.

FRIDA KAHLO Frida and Diego Rivera 1931 Location: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA Student models: Rowland Scheessele, 12th grade (Diego); Marisol Rodriguez, 12th grade (Frida) Considered a wedding portrait of the famous Spanish couple, in the upper righthand corner, a pigeon carrying a banner reads, “Here you see us, me Frida Kahlo, with my dearest husband Diego Rivera. I painted these pictures in the delightful city of San Francisco, Calif., for our companion Mr. Albert Bender, and it was in the month of April of the year 1931.” In spite of their famous stormy relationship, Frida displays a time that is simple, humble, and uncharacteristic – in great contrast to other common themes (tragedy and internal struggle) often represented in her work.

LEONARDO DA VINCI Mona Lisa 1503-1506 Location: The Louvre Museum, Paris Student model: Lucy Milback, 6th grade The best known, most visited, written/sung about, parodied artwork in the world, the “Mona Lisa” is also one of the most valuable. It is a portrait of Lisa Gherardini, 3rd wife of Francesco del Giocondo, a cloth and silk merchant. Commissioned to celebrate the birth of their daughter and their home purchase, Giocondo never received his painting since Da Vinci had to delay completion for another piece. Therefore, the “Mona Lisa” was finished much later, and has been speculated to be a hidden self portrait of Da Vinci.

GRANT WOOD American Gothic 1930 Location: Art Institute of Chicago Student models: Abigail Kot, 12th grade (farmer’s wife); Luke Scheer, 8th grade (farmer) “American Gothic” features a farmer and daughter, evoking the 19th century Americana that has become a satire of rural small-town life. The artist stated these figures as, “the kind of people I fancied should live in that house”. The figures are the artist’s sister and dentist. The painting gained quick popularity shortly after Wood entered it into a competition at the Art Institute of Chicago, where he was awarded a bronze medal and $300 cash prize.

JOHANNES VERMEER Girl with a Pearl Earring, 1665 Location: Mauritshuis, The Hague, Netherlands Student model: Gabriella Sarti, 9th grade Also known as “The Mona Lisa of the North”, this painting is not a portrait but a tronie (Dutch term for a common type that shows exaggerated facial expressions, stock characters in costume). Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer, was a painter who produced 36 known works during his lifetime and like his peers, focused on “genre painting” and depictions of everyday life. What makes Vermeer unique is his ability to render and represent light.

MICHELANGELO The Pieta, 1498-1499 Location: St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City Student models: Angela Carraher, 9th grade (Mary); Abigail Kot, 12th grade (Jesus) The “Pieta” was commissioned as a funeral monument for French Cardinal Jean de Bilhères, a Rome Representative. It is the only piece Michelangelo ever signed after overhearing a viewer mistake his work for another artist, Cristoforo Solari. This famous marble statue has been through a restoration in 1736, to replace Mary’s left hand that was damaged during a move, and also in 1972 when a mentally disturbed geologist attacked the sculpture with a hammer, resulting in losing one of Mary’s arms, a chunk of her nose, and chipping an eyelid. Witnesses took many of the broken pieces. Some were returned, but many were not. The restored statue is now protected by a bullet-proof acrylic glass panel.

RENE MAGRITTE The Son of Man 1964 Location: Private Collection Student model: Siena Moccia, 12th grade Magritte's self-portrait displays a symbolic metaphor of life's hidden realities. Having most of his face hovered over by an apple yet eyes just barely peeking over represents for the artist, “an interest in that which is hidden and which the visible does not show us.” It has been interpreted by critics as a religious painting due to the apple and title of the art that have been linked to Christian themes. Privately owned, viewings of the painting are rare.

Marilyn, 1967, Andy Warhol: Julia Weilant (10)

Love is in the Air (The Flower Thrower), 2005, Banksy: John Milback (8)

Self Portrait, 1889, Vincent Van Gogh: Brooke Bandy (11)

Girl with a Pearl Earring, 1665, Johannes Vermeer: Gabby Sarti (9)

The Pieta, 1499, Michelangelo Buonarroti: Angela Carraher (9) (Mary); Abby Kot (10) (Jesus)

Son of Man, 1964, Rene Magritte: Siena Moccia* (12)

American Gothic, 1930, Grant Wood: Abigail Kot (12) (wife); Luke Scheer (8) (husband)

Ritratto di Dora Maar, 1937, Pablo Picasso: Alexandra Spevetz (9)

Comments or questions?

Follow Notre Dame on Twitter at @NDPMA.
About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. Notre Dame Prep enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's Marist Academy enrolls students in pre-kindergarten through grade eight. NDPMA is an International Baccalaureate "World School" and is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers. It is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school's home page at