WEDU Arts Plus


Episode 1003

Through his watercolor paintings, artist Arthur Dillard of Bradenton captures African-American icons and everyday life. Modern violin maker Sam Zygmuntowicz breathes life into classical instruments at his Brooklyn studio. Hear the beautiful voice and inspiring journey of Houston, Texas, singer Christina Wells. Experience the visionary work of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama with her exhibition.

AIRED: February 18, 2021 | 0:26:45

- [Announcer] This is a production of WEDU PBS,

Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota.

Major funding for WEDU Arts Plus is provided

through the greater Cincinnati Foundation

by an arts loving donor who encourages

others to support your PBS station, WEDU.

And by the Pinellas Community Foundation.

Giving humanity a hand since 1969.

- [Dalia] In this edition of WEDU Arts Plus,

a Bradenton artist captures family and famous faces.

- We do one jazz musician all and of it was intertwined.

So we up doing John Coltrane,

all of a sudden Miles Davis, Michel

and it just goes on and on.

- [Dalia] Perfecting playability.

- Probably the most important part

of the violin is the front, the top.

That's the part that vibrates the most.

- [Dalia] Believing in song.

- Singing is my best form of communication.

So my message or my art is shared best

when I can sing it to you.

- [Dalia] And reflecting the infinite.

- [Narrator] She was able to find the mirrors

as a device to activate her vision.

- It's all coming up next on WEDU Arts Plus.

(bright upbeat music)

Hello, I'm Dalia Colon.

And this is WEDU Arts Plus.

Let's meet an award-winning watercolor artist

whose paintings have been exhibited across the country.

At his Bradenton studio, this engineer by training

depicts African-American life

from civil rights icons and celebrities to everyday people.

Introducing Arthur Dillard.

(piano music)

- My name is Arthur Dillard.

I'm a watercolor artist

and I've been doing that for about 20 years.

(piano music)

In essence, I've really been doing all my life

since I was about eight years old

but professionally I've been doing it 20 years.

(piano music)

And I always had a love for art

and everybody discouraged me from being an artist.

So you can't make a living doing that

and because of that I listen to them for over 20 years.

I was an engineer for 25 years.

I really didn't enjoy being an engineer

because at that time, when I graduated in engineering

there were very few black engineers in the state of Florida

and I didn't want to leave Florida.

So every job I went to I was the only black engineer

or the first one there.

(piano music)

I got sick when I was 35 and it took them

eight years to determined that I had MS.

My last job was downtown Bradenton as a project engineer.

And I ended up start having physical shutdowns

when the MS would act ugly

and then all of a sudden, I get real tired.

And so happened I saw some art studios down the street,

so I ended up getting an art space there.

When I started having physical shutdowns,

I would go run there for an hour, hour and a half

and then kind of recuperate.

And at that point I ended up

start painting again on a frequent basis.

(piano music)

I end up getting that studio

and just like I have said,

I have had that studio for over 20 years now

and everybody told me say,

"You're never gonna make a living doing art.

You can't be successful at art,

especially in this area.

You have to paint trees

and beach scenes and things like that."

And I ended up believing that for a minute

and I ended up in hated painting those kinds of things.

And I stopped painting when I enjoy painting.

(piano music)

And I end up doing shows all over

the United States in order to survive

because at that time there were

very little shows in Florida

that African-American artists could participate in.

So I ended up fortunate enough to meet some other artists

that was going through the same thing I was going through

and we came up with a group of artists.

It was about 19 I was, when I first started,

we always kind of reminded ourselves

of doing like the children's survey

which a lot of the musicians did black in Atlanta

they had the National Black Arts Festival there,

they had one in Houston.

We would go to Houston.

So because of that you would always have a circuit.

(piano music)

Even to today, there's a lot of shows

that a lot of African-American artists can't get into

but that's just a bias that we have in this society.

- I first met Dillard at the Black Arts Festival

here in Atlanta almost 20 years ago,

about 18 years ago, I think it was 2002.

(instrumental music)

It was the last day of the Black Arts Festival

and I went specifically looking

for John Coltrane or Muhammad Ali.

And I was about to leave out of the mall

and this booth caught the corner of my eye

and when I went in, he had everything I was looking for.

So his black and white pieces

are what his saying is for, but all the jazz pieces

and the sports pieces really spoke to me.

- All of a sudden we do one jazz musician

all of it was intertwined.

So we end up doing John Coltrane

and all of a sudden, Miles Davis, Michel.

And it just goes on and on.

Basically all of them was in that same circle.

- And the really cool thing about art is such a great guy,

he's one of my best friends.

And a quick story, when he was staying

with me up in one of the Black Arts Festival,

I think it was 2004, the room he was in,

I had some pictures out and stuff.

So he actually snuck a picture of my dad out,

made a copy of it, went back to Florida,

painted my dad boxed.

And so he did this huge color piece

of my dad and brought it back,

the next time he saw me, it was just really cool.

And he also did a picture of my mother

after she passed and made prints for all my siblings.

So I gave all my siblings

a print of it for Christmas a few years back.

So this really special guy and like I said,

one of my dearest friends.

(instrumental music)

- One of the things in my artist's statement,

I always say that, I love painting old people and kids

because old people always have a story

with the lines and the wrinkles in their face.

It tells their whole life story.

And I'll always like from my art

to tell a story and kids are so innocent.

One of my two favorite pieces is my two aunts.

I keep those two pieces

because I remember when I was little

we would always go to my mom's hometown in Georgia.

And she had her sister were always

be going to church on Sundays

and they have those huge purse, and big hats.

Some of the kids pictures are some of my grandkids

and the reason I end up doing to them

is that just like I said,

I got real sick when I was 35.

I didn't think I was going to live very long.

And asked, "God just let me live long enough

to see at least one grandchild."

And I was rest to see 12 and three great-grandchildren.

So with that it's always a blessing

to do something you love.

And that's why I tell a lot of young artists

that I've mentored over the years,

when you paint, paint things that you love

and you can identify with it.

And with that, people will love it.

(piano music)

- See more at

Visit the Brooklyn New York Studio

of modern violin maker, Samuel Zygmuntowicz.

He discovered his craft as a teenager

and has spent his career bringing life to violins

for some of the world's most talented musicians.

(violin music)

- I was interested in sculpture and art

from as little as I can remember,

I was always doing sculpture,

I think I was good at it

and everyone assumed that I'd be a professional artist.

When I was 13, I read a book about a violin maker

and I kind of got interested in instrument making.

It uses all the attributes of art

but it's for practical purpose

and it has a really clear metric.

It either performs well as the violin or the musician

or it doesn't just dependent on knowledge and skill.

If someone comes to me to have a violin made,

there's kind of a process where I want to understand

first of all, why did they come to me?

Presumably they've heard instruments of mine

and want to see their violin,

I have to understand what they want.

Are they a soloist

or are they a very aggressive, strong player?

Are they someone who is a more subtle player, softer?

Then I will go back to my shop

and then it's up to me to decide

what I will make for them

that will serve their needs.

All around me here, here's my Woodstock

or some of my Woodstock.

And it's kind of like a collection of wine or something.

It comes from all over Europe

and I've been buying wood from the beginning in my career.

(violin music)

It has to sit for a long time,

but then I can go through that.

And I pick wood based not just visually,

but on its density, its stiffness,

how I think it will behave in this model.

First I have to make what's called

the rib structure which is the sides.

And those are bent out a very thin wood

around a form, which I've designed.

From the ribs, from the sides I've made,

I will then create the outline of the instrument,

so I out the top and the back.

While the ribs are bent at the top and the back,

even though they have an arch that's carved in

because it's a compound arching, they need directions

in which the woods are just bent.

The arching is critical to the tongue color.

Probably the most important part

of the violin is the the front, the top,

that's the part that vibrates the most.

And that's made out of spruce,

which is of the European woods.

It's the wood that is strongest for you to have weight.

What's challenging is while I'm making it,

I'm relating to it in a visual and a tactile way.

But when it's working as a violin,

it's gonna be vibrating in a way that,

is not visible to the eye but that is very real.

It's like a long chess game.

I won't know if I've made the right calls

until the instrument's been strung up

and have been played for awhile.

(violin music)

It crosses the line from being something that

you just made, like someone who would make

a chest of drawers or the house

to being something that is vibrating

in response to the human interaction.

(violin music)

It's not alive exactly, but it's like it's alive.

(violin music)

Every violin I make, I keep really exhaustive records

on every aspect about it that I can,

wood choice, model, arching, thicknesses, weights,

tap tones, varnishes, based bar dimensions.

If an instrument of mine comes back and I really like it

I wanna make another one like that.

I have some record of what I did.

On the other hand if someone comes in

and it's like, well you know

it's just not as open as it should be

or it's not as focused.

I can look at my notes and I can see,

well I may have been a little conservative on that one,

I might have a little room to take a little wood out

or that one might be a little too flexible,

maybe I should put in a little reinforcement.

You never really understand something

until you have to explain it to somebody else.

So if it puts me on the spot all the time when I teach.

Most of the great shops historically,

including Stradivari were studios,

they weren't a single lone artist.

People working collaboratively

will ultimately work at a higher level of development

than a single craftsperson or a single artist.

You could say on the one hand, I'm training my competition.

On the other hand, I feel that it's attributed

to the system that I practice.

I'm not a magician, I build things based on,

with a method and based on skill.

And if I can convey that then it sort of,

you could say proof of concept.

Art never exists in a vacuum.

What are the sources of knowledge that go into it?

What are the quality of the people that entered the field?

And then it's pulled forward by the demands

of the clientele or the audience.

I've had wonderful opportunities

working with great musicians.

I got contacted by Isaac Stern

to make a copy of his Guarneri del Gesu.

To actually meet Isaac Stern,

for me it was like, it's like, I know,

meeting the Pope or something and is legendary.

(violin music)

When the instrument was finally done

I brought it to Mr. Stern,

he was incredibly gracious,

(violin music)

When Mr. Stern passed away,

the two instruments that I'd made for him

were part of his estate and they were auctioned off.

That violin was recently sold to Chad Hoopes,

who's a wonderful soloist in his 20s.

And I think it's a really fitting placement,

I think Mr. Stern would be very pleased.

(violin music)

It was an odd feeling to see that

my work has now left my purview.

It is now entered the world where it lives

its own life and has its own history.

And I feel like I've seen my own work go

from a decent alternative fruition

to being something that is sought after,

that has a place in the history of violin making.

(violin music)

- To learn more, visit

and search Sam Zygmuntowicz, violin maker.

Houston Texas based singer and nurse Christina Wells

communicates best through music.

Her journey to overcome obstacles

to achieve her dream is inspirational.

♪ I am not a stranger to the dark ♪

- I'm able to communicate things singing that

I can't find words to say.

♪ Cause we don't want your broken parts ♪

Like when I was a young girl

and I would have a bad day at school

or someone was mean to me,

♪ For my scars ♪

I had a tape that I had made,

a mixed tape of Whitney Houston

and songs from Bodyguard and stuff like that.

And I would sit and I would sing

the songs until I felt better.

♪ I know that there's a place for us ♪

♪ For we're glorious ♪

And so singings became my coping mechanism

♪ When the chop is worse wanna cut me down ♪

You know I had been in the choir,

we had gone to like all these

other competitions with the choir

and people would mention.

♪ I am brave, I am ♪

That girl in the front, on the left,

she got a voice.

♪ This is me ♪

♪ Look out cause come ♪

And I started to let myself actually dream of it

and I started to imagine myself on Broadway

and like entertaining people with my voice

and my witty repartee.

And this is where the infamous

AstroWorld Audition comes in.

I'm gonna go and audition for AstroWorld

because they were gonna do this big Motown review.

And they asked me to sing respect by Aretha Franklin.

And I was young and I was brassy

and so I was like, "Yes I can."

And I go off and I'm wailing

and doing my my own thing and riffing and stuff

and I get this standing ovation

from the other auditioners and my heart lights up.

And I'm like, "I can sing."

Well then came the final call and they cut me.

And I had spent so much time there that week,

I was so surprised.

And so when they cut me out,

went over to their like production team and staff

and I was like, "Can you tell me why

you decided not to take me

because maybe I could like figure something out?"

And they said, "We only wanna have

one black female voice in this review.

So we're gonna combine whoever sings Aretha

with Whitney and you can't wear the clothes,

you're too heavy."

My feelings were deeply hurt.

And I had already harbored a fear

that I was too big to be a singer

and I cried and I cried and I cried.

I must have cried for like two hours.

And I had decided that,

okay I'm not gonna to be a singer.

I'm not gonna go for people to tell me I'm fat.

And I didn't sing at anything for like 10 years.

At the nurses station at the hospital

one day I was like, I need a place to sing.

And somebody mentioned to me

this community theater in Deer Park called Our Park Players.

They were looking to cast for their production of hairspray.

And that is where I learned the song,

I Know Where I've Been.

I was just done at people's reaction to me

because I thought all of my shine as a singer

and as a performer had like worn off, you know?

And I still wasn't convinced.

So the show ended and I was like, okay

and I went back to work.

And then a friend of mine reached out to me

and she told me about this audition

for this competition downtown called French Superstar.

♪ Your love for real ♪

Like my whole world shifted.

And I didn't know it was shifting,

you know what I mean?

I was just standing on the stage like,

"I hope they like this."

And then they did and then they did and then I won.

And I went and recorded

I Know Where I've Been as a single.

♪ There is a light ♪

♪ Here in the darkness ♪

America's Got Talent sees that music video

♪ Is black as my skin ♪

And I went to audition for the executive producers.

♪ Showing me the way ♪

And I was long there way longer

than I thought I ever would be.

♪ But I know where I have been ♪

When I was on the show I realized that,

we can teach people multiple ways,

but when they're being entertained at the same time,

the message goes in so much deeper.

♪ That comes from deep within ♪

Singing is my best form of communication.

So my message or my art is shared best when I can it to you.

♪ I pray the answers up our head ♪

It's all connected and it's this message

I wanna share with the world

that I've always wanted to share.

And it comes from so many times

that I have been shut down

and told that I couldn't do things.

And then you sit in your like, "But why can't I?"

And when someone's like,

"You know going to school as a single mom,

(laughing) no.

Or when I wanna go to nursing school

and they're like, "And work I don't think so honey."

Every time someone puts a hurdle

in front of me, I'm like, "What do you mean?

Why can't I do it?"

And so now that I have anyone's attention

that's what I want to say to them.

♪ Where I've been ♪

If you believe you can

and you have the confidence, you can.

♪ I give thanks to my God ♪

♪ Cause I know where I've been ♪

- Hear more

Since the 1950s, the work of famed Japanese artist

Yayoi Kusama has expanded repetitious design

to an experience of the infinite.

Her exhibit infinity allows museum goers to experience

and participate in Kusamas Vision Of The Infinite.

(gentle music)

- [Narrator] Welcome to Infinity as imagined

by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama.

(gentle music)

As you step inside her famous Infinity Mirror Rooms,

reflections of dots, colors and light,

bend reality in this unique museum experience.

- I would love for people to just step back

and not take photos and try to just

experience the rooms as is.

- [Narrator] Well, photos on social media

have recently propelled the artists' popularity.

She spent a lifetime creating and is still working at 89.

This exhibits spotlights her body of work.

- Kusama has been at the forefront of artistic innovation

ever since she started since the 1950s up until now.

So that makes her a very unique and unusual artist

basically developing a practice

that includes performance, painting, drawing,

sculpture, installation and really everything.

- [Narrator] From a very young age,

Kusama was determined to create.

Even when that put her at odds with others.

- In Japan, she was born in the late '20s

and the expectation was that

she would get married and have kids

and not just get married, but have an arranged marriage

which was not something she wanted to do.

- [Narrator] She made her way

to the United States to pursue her art career.

But that came with different challenges.

- In New York it was a man's world

and it wasn't easy for her to come there,

she didn't have friends there,

She didn't speak English very fluently.

And so to try to break into the art world

it was a big deal.

- [Narrator] Throughout her life

Kusama has also struggled with mental illness.

- She has I think he used her art

as a form of healing, her practice

I think just as a life style.

The ability to have the work

is something that has allowed her to survive.

- [Narrator] In the early 1960s,

she brought her repetitive style to a new medium

tapping her life experience from World War II.

- During the war, she was working

at a parachute factory, sewing military uniforms.

And that's how she developed the technique

to show those soft sculptures.

- [Narrator] They also appear

in her first Infinity Mirror Room, Phalli's Field

which they built in 1965.

- She began to have hallucinations.

And her work was really about

kind of catching up

with those visions that she was having.

So you'll see one motif just exponentially accumulating

whether it be the paintings, the infinity nets

or the phallic tubers in the sculptures.

And so the way in which these

mirror rooms kind of came about,

was that her physical capacity to be able to

create infinite repetitions of these objects,

it just didn't keep up with her desire.

And so she was able to find the mirrors

as a device to activate her vision.

(gentle music)

- [Narrator] The mirror rooms

have captured many people's attention

particularly with this traveling exhibit.

Those who visit reserve timed tickets

and the time inside the mirror room

is limited to about 30 seconds.

Inside the last one called the Obliteration Room,

visitors become artists as well.

- Everything is painted completely white

and every visitor is given a set of colorful stickers

and is then invited to basically leave

those stickers somewhere in the room.

So over the course of the exhibition

the dots will accumulate

and will eventually cover the entire room.

- [Narrator] It's yet another way

to connect with Kusama's vision.

- I know that she is very happy

to have all of these adoring fans.

If you think about the lean times for her

where she worked so hard

and she just wasn't getting the appreciation

or respect that she deserved,

and that wasn't a period of years,

it was a period of decades.

So now to have all of this attention

and to get the glory she deserved, I think it's fantastic.

(upbeat music)

- Find out more by visiting

And that wraps it up for this edition of WEDU Arts Plus.

For arts and culture, visit

Until next time I'm Dalia Colon.

Thanks for watching.

(upbeat music)

- [Announcer] Major funding for WEDU Arts Plus

is provided through the Greater Cincinnati Foundation

by an arts loving donor, who encourages others

to support your PBS station, WEDU

and by the Pinellas Community Foundation,

giving humanity a hand since 1969.

(upbeat music)