Showing winning colors; Artist: Monica Wooden's painting...


Showing winning colors; Artist: Monica Wooden's painting of swimming fish wins a national poster contest, which comes as no surprise to her teacher.

Monica Wooden loves to make art. Since the third grade, she has been a member of the art club at Cherry Hill Elementary School in Baltimore. And for the past five years, the sixth-grader has looked forward to Gayle Maxwell's art class above all others at school. Maxwell says her enthusiasm shows in her work.

So Monica's art teacher wasn't the least bit surprised when the 11-year-old won a national poster design contest earlier this month with her painting of fish swimming among brightly colored corals. The contest, sponsored by the National Zoo and Aquarium Association, was designed to promote awareness of coral reefs.

"It is a very, very strong piece -- the graphic quality, understanding of space, and the fish! There are these really neat-looking fish," Maxwell says.

"I didn't think it would win at first," Monica says on a recent day at school. Her poster was chosen from 5,000 designs from Baltimore-area fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders. Then it was awarded the top prize over 33 other regional winners.

"There was a lot of warmth" in Monica's painting, says Dorothy Jacobson, director of foundation relations at the National Geographic Society and a member of the design jury. "It had an endearing quality." The judges also liked Monica's clever message on the artwork: "Coral reefs are important because they're the anchor of marine life. Be careful where you drop your anchor."

Today, Monica and her winning artwork will be honored at the National Aquarium as part of a weekend celebration of the international Year of the Reef. Her poster will be displayed at the National Zoo in Washington until June, and then reproductions will be sent for display at 180 zoos and aquariums around the country.

Monica describes her artistic efforts: "Mrs. Maxwell brought in pictures of a coral reef. We looked at them and drew the coral on paper and then drew the fish separately." Later, she "painted the coral reef using sponges because the coral has different textures."

Maxwell's entire sixth-grade art class took part in the exercise as part of her "Living in Water" unit.

"We learned about different types of coral and what lives in it," Monica explains. "Microorganisms live in it, and the fish feed on them. If [the coral] is destroyed, then the fish will die, too."

As part of her first-place prize, Monica wins a free trip to Bermuda to see a coral reef first-hand.

An honor student, Monica also enjoys math and language arts, but her favorite has always been art class.

"Monica told me three years ago that she wants to be an artist when she grows up," Maxwell says. "But I told her not to limit herself to just that. Her talents go all over. I could see Monica doing a wide variety of things. She's just a delightful person to know."

Letting the words wake and speak; Poet: When Tillie Friedenberg couldn't find a job 11 years ago, she turned to writing poetry.

For years, the words slept in Tillie Friedenberg, until she had no choice but to let them out. At the height of her skills as a speech pathologist, she couldn't find a job when she and her husband relocated for about the 10th time in 40-odd years. She was too old to be considered employable, Friedenberg realized. She gave up the job search and began to write poetry.

Since returning to Baltimore with her husband, Morton, Friedenberg has unleashed sheaves of poetry that speak of love, pain, growing old. Her work has appeared in the Baltimore Sun, the City Paper and numerous literary journals. She has read at Borders, Bibelot, the Raven.

Next Sunday, at a Government House ceremony launching Older Americans' Month in Maryland, Friedenberg, 75, will read the poem that captured the 1996 Egan Memorial Award sponsored by the Maryland Poetry Review.

The event also commemorates the opening of an exhibition by older Maryland artists, part of A Celebration of the Arts, a two-year initiative by the state's first lady, Frances Glendening.

"I hadn't written a poem since fifth grade," says Friedenberg, who has two daughters and three grandsons scattered on the East and West coasts. Mike, her schnauzer, dozes on the floor as she speaks. "Now, I'll be on a platform with the governor and his wife. It's almost unbelievable."

Friedenberg's success as a poet is sweet vindication after her frustrating job search. "I hate ageism," she says. "I like blasting it with my presence."

Eleven years ago, Friedenberg and her husband returned to Baltimore after a 46-year absence. Morton Friedenberg's work as a social worker had taken them all over the country. It was the first time since marrying at age 18 that Tillie Friedenberg was able to decide, not "what am I needed to do," but "what did I want to do."

She enrolled in poetry courses and was encouraged by instructors like Nikia Leopold at Johns Hopkins and Kendra Kopelke at the University of Baltimore. Quickly, Friedenberg found her voice. "Some of my best poems start on the basis of some kind of feeling. When I start, I don't know where the poem is going to wind up," she says.

The poems resonate with readers. Friedenberg often receives letters and calls from people who ask, "How did you know I felt that way?"

She writes with pen and pencil on a legal pad. "I scratch out and write over and revise frequently."

She struggled with a poem about a woman who had a mastectomy and felt that she would no longer be lovable to her husband. When the result, "Love Poem," appeared in Passager, a journal published by the University of Baltimore, Friedenberg's friends and acquaintances were wrongly convinced she had written about herself.

Sometimes a poem springs, full and finished, to her pad. Such a poem, "Story of My Life and Death," an "itty-bitty poem," compressed Friedenberg's life into a series of vibrant colors. "I think it worked," she says.

Friedenberg is not so sure she would write if her work weren't published. "I like the contact. The thought and knowledge that it's contacting somebody. That they're reading it and saying, 'Yes, that's how it is with me.' "

For more information about the Government House event commemorating older Americans on April 27, call 410-974-3531.

Stephanie Shapiro

Pub Date: 4/20/97

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad