GENEVA — Gina Monahan has devoted her life to art and teaching art to the young.
The 54-year-old artist and art teacher at Geneva High School has made her life’s mission clear in signs, murals, paintings and the art students she has educated. Though she is often called Geneva’s artist in residence, she has spread her love of visual art beyond her own works to generations of students.
“I started teaching art at Geneva High School 24 years ago,” she said. “I wanted to teach because I love both teaching and art.”
Monahan was born and raised in the Geneva/Geneva-on-the-Lake area, is a 1979 Geneva High School graduate and currently lives in Saybrook Township. She has a bachelor’s and a Masters in education from Cleveland State. She said art and education were “in her blood.”
“I had great role models,” she said. “They all gave back to the community.”
Both art and teaching are all about communication. She said at family gatherings when she grew up, everyone talked about art and teaching the way most families discuss sports.
“My father, Tony Sanzotta, was principal at Geneva High School until he retired in 1991,” she added. “My mother, Josephine, was a Geneva Schools librarian. My sister, Fran Cervas, was a Geneva elementary schools teacher. Another sister, Joni Romano, is currently an education assistant in New York and my brother taught math for three years at West Point. My twin sister taught English in Korea for a while. So you can see, my family is very much into teaching.”
Currently she teaches between 100 and 160 students. She has enlisted their aid in public works of art and murals because she wants to instill a spirit of volunteerism in her students, as well as make them practical, marketable artists.
Monahan acknowledges “art is a lost art.”
“I’m currently the only art teacher at Geneva High School,” she said. “My biggest challenges, unfortunately, are due to school budget cuts. I’ve seen the art program get cut drastically these past years and students just don’t get an art education. It’s difficult to give them the art training needed for college.”
She said despite limited resources, she is able to teach students “skills and techniques to make them competitive in today’s work force.”
“Art may be a lost art, but it is more important now than ever because today’s kids need the necessary problem solving skills that you learn in an art classroom,” she said.
Students learn difficult lessons about problem solving in art, Monahan said.
“Most people don’t realize that fine art is much like math and science,” she said. “It involves problem solving.”
The techniques she teaches go back to the ancient Egyptians and Renaissance Italy.
“I teach Realism,” she said. “I love Impressionism and other styles of art, but these classes are most importantly about rendering images that appear three dimensional on paper or canvas. Proportion, shading, all these techniques that are so important now in computer art and graphics — they all go back to DaVinci and his students, and even before that to the ancient Egyptians.”
Brittany Poluzne, a sophomore, said, “Art class with Ms. Monahan is difficult but rewarding. We work hard and I’m becoming a better student.”
“Ms. Monahan’s art class is fun because we get to express ourselves in each of our projects,” said senior Chase Livingston.
Nancy Barbo, a teacher, intervention specialist and coach at Geneva High School, said Monahan was “passionate about her art, her students and her school.”
“She never turns down an opportunity to promote school pride,” she said. “Gina has been my ‘go-to’ person when I want something for my basketball players that’s personalized and inspirational. She always delivers.”
Shirley Lehman is Branch Manager at the Northwest Savings Bank in Geneva. She has known Monahan since the late 1990s. With Monahan and her students, Lehman puts together the decorations for various holiday activities in town for the Geneva Business Association.
“We’re working on the wooden cutout decorations for Christmas season now,” she said. “She gets her students involved in all these activities. We make templates for the ‘Gingerbread Village’ decorations, for example, and then industrial arts at the high school takes the wood and cuts them out. Then Gina’s students paints them. What they do is great.”