During the pandemic, Erika Bleiberg, a public relations professional who lives in Glen Ridge, had time to indulge her passion for painting. On 5-by-7- or 8-by-10-inch canvases in bright acrylics, she painted Impressionist-style portraits of journalists’ pets, both to relieve stress and to give back to those who, she says, “keep our democracy going.”
Since then, the self-described “journalist fangirl” has painted hundreds of pet portraits for media figures, including Soledad O’Brien, Matt Katz, Sarah McCammon, Sean Sullivan and Dave Jorgenson, first reaching out to them via the platform formerly known as Twitter (now called X) with the hashtag #JournalismMatters.
Local subjects include the dog owned by Dale Russakoff (a former Washington Post reporter) and her husband Matt Purdy (New York Times editor at large), plus dozens of reporters for NorthJersey.com. For author and political analyst Jonathan Alter, who doesn’t have a pet, Bleiberg loosened the rules and painted his goat sculpture.
Bleiberg was accustomed to a relatively small canvas, but it shrunk even further when Montclair’s Francesca Castagnoli asked if she’d like to exhibit at Tiny Gallery, the miniature art display she founded on the front lawn of her home. (Think: Little Free Library—but instead of books inside the display box, there’s an arrangement of Lilliputian artworks.)
Bleiberg didn’t hesitate; she’d been enchanted by Castagnoli’s gallery when a friend exhibited there. She set to work on a dozen 2.5-by-3.5-inch pet portraits, using super-fine brushes and the tips of sharpened pencils for detail. She quickly adapted to the smaller scale—and found that she actually prefers it. “I’ve always been drawn to miniature things,” she says. “As a small child, my pockets were always full of small found objects like little stones, shells, etc. Now 5-by-7, let alone 8-by-10 canvases, feel big to me!”
At the exhibit’s opening earlier this month, local journalists, many with their dogs, mingled in front of Castagnoli’s home, sipping wine and admiring Bleiberg’s mini-renderings of their beloved pets. Guests whose pets’ portraits were on display included Liz George, editor-publisher of the Montclair Local; Jay Lustig, founding editor of NJArts.net; Debbie Galant, former New York Times columnist and founder of Baristanet; Diane Herbst, a reporter for the Messenger; and John Mooney, founding editor of NJ Spotlight News.
Castagnoli, a copy director for Amazon Fashion who works remotely, gets a kick out of sharing art with passersby.
“I work for the biggest company; today, everything’s big and overwhelming,” she says. “It’s a beautiful thing to see someone stopping by to look at tiny art. Nothing makes me happier.”
Bleiberg’s exhibit can be viewed in front of Castagnoli’s home on Stanford Place, near Grove Street, until October 13. Next up for the gallery: miniature paper-collage landscapes by local artist Paula Stark.
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