When Maria Milazzo began coloring on her front lawn with neighborhood children, she had no idea that she would eventually run an art studio out of a historic-looking home on Main Street in Matawan.
Over twenty years ago, she and her husband at the time moved into a house on Tina Place and she left her secretary position at Merrill Lynch to be home full time.
"I didn't have any children then but I had a whole bunch of kids from around the neighborhood," Milazzo recalled. "They would come ring the bell and I would say, 'Let's draw today.'"
Before Milazzo knew it, she was buying art supplies to supplement these afternoon drawing sessions on her front lawn. It seemed that every day more children were coming over to "do art with Maria."
She created hand-drawn flyers and began charging $10 for each class to help cover the cost of the art supplies. Each class had at least 12 children in it, she said, and the class eventually moved from her front lawn to a table and chairs in the basement.
The high demand for her art classes outgrew the Tina Place home. It was time to find a space for an art studio that wouldn't involve young artists and their siblings running through her living room.
A small space was available for rent on Freneau Avenue, across from the Charlie Brown's, and Young at Art was born.
She constantly had children coming in to do art, including Brownie Troops who would arrive by the busload, she remembers fondly. Milazzo soon welcomed home her own little artist, a son named Daniel.
"If anyone is high on life, then this is what I was. I was 26 or 27 and I was on top of the world because I was doing what I love. I had no college education but I was doing what I love," Milazzo said.
As her classes continued to bloom Milazzo decided to go to Kean University to get her degree in teaching art.
She spent ten years working on her degree while running Young at Art. She graduated college and became an art teacher at Marlboro Elementary School. With an official job as a teacher, Milazzo still could not give up her studio, so she moved to a pale yellow, historic-looking home at 197 Main Street where she could teach art from.
"The studio is the only thing in my life that was a constant. I though, I have got to have my art studio. I was not going to be content if I didn't have one."
That feeling of necessity was all it took. Now, about 22 years after she started coloring on her front lawn at Tina Place, Young at Art continues to teach artists of all ages the techniques of art and the passion that fuels the creativity behind it.
"It's almost like I can't do anything or go anywhere without thinking, I should paint that. With a camera, you're capturing a minute that you steal. But imagine creating that now out of your head and into your heart and through your hands."
She teaches several classes throughout the week, broken up by age. Students work with everything including pastels, water colors and acrylics, and have recently completed still lifes and replications of classic pieces, Milazzo explained.
However, she notes, passion and love are not always enough to keep the struggling studio afloat. Times are tough, and it can be a challenge at times to make ends meet.
"Every time the phone calls come in (to register for classes) I say, 'Oh there's hope. There's hope for me.'" Milazzo said, pausing for a minute. "People say if you are successful, then you are happy. And I am happy, so I guess I am successful."
Her happiness stems from spreading the love of art, and for Milazzo, it's worth the risk.
"My studio started as just a hobby that was out of control. I was so in love with what I had," she said, wondering aloud if maybe she is just crazy. "I don't even know if anybody does that, is so in love with what they do that they risk everything."
Editor's note: To find out more about Young at Art and the classes offered, visit the studio's website at http://www.yaastudiomatawan.com.