Artist’s creativity blossoms as she teaches the deaf


Sharon Papp, 47, began signing five years ago when she adopted a deaf dog. Aspen, a white pit bull, was a rescue animal from Superstorm Sandy.

Papp said she had always wanted to learn American Sign Language as a child, but growing up in Levittown in the 1970s, she didn’t have the opportunity to do so. It’s much easier these days to either take a class or master the language online. Teaching Aspen 45 signs, she found the experience of using signing to communicate


Her life changed dramatically three and a half years later, when she was hired as an art teacher at

the Mill Neck School for the Deaf. “I don’t think working at Mill Neck happened by accident,” she

said. “They were looking for a teacher as I was broadening my horizons.”

An artist, she has been able to share her talents with the children, explain to them her philosophy and encourage them to develop their own creativity.

Gwen Watson, of Bayville, has worked as the school’s nurse for the past 19 years. Her office is next to Papp’s. Watson’s grandfather was an artist, which gave her an appreciation for the arts. She said she was very impressed by Papp.

“She’s so creative and vast in her art history,” Watson said. “So many of these hearing-impaired kids are so artistically gifted. Because she’s a free spirit, she seems to be involved in every kind of art, which benefits the children.”

A single parent of two daughters, Cassidy and Gabrielle, 24, and 20, who are also artists, Papp was once a graphic designer. She earned a degree in fashion apparel

design and worked in Manhattan as a clothing designer for years. “I went back to school because I decided I didn’t want to just make art,” she said, “I wanted to teach, too.”

Her artwork is eclectic. “Sharon’s artwork isn’t just painting and drawing,” Watson said. “She’s out of the


Papp sometimes incorporates objects into her paintings. Why? “We’re a disposable society,” she explained. “Ninety percent of what we use ends up in the trash. I tell my students and anyone interested that where people

see trash, I see treasure.”

She recently worked with the high school students at Mill Neck on a pop art project. “She wanted them

to think of a kind of soup, and something personal,” Watson said. “Some wrote ‘soccer soup’ on their work. Then she made a giant soup can and put it in the lobby,

and added the kids’ work to it. She called it ‘Condensed

ASL soup.’”

Papp said she believes she’s found the perfect

place to work. “I love it at Mill Neck,” she said. “The

classes are small, which helps the kids to learn. The

staff is wonderful and care so much.”

And working there has enhanced her own growth

as an artist. “It lightened my heart a little bit and,

has helped me to see the world differently,” she said. “To see what these kids go through made me want to give more and made me not take things for granted.”

She said she believes that as an artist, her work at

Mill Neck has also loosened her up. “I was a structured

painter before,” she said. “Being with these kids lit

a fire under me. Now I put what happens in my classroom

into my artwork.”

The students have made her more adventurous, she says. “These kids are trying new things, so why can’t I?” she said. “Being with them has definitely helped

me to lose my fear and has sparked my creativity.”

She is committed to what she says is a search for a

connection to a higher self. “I’m on a journey to take

all of my experiences collectively to map out what

happened in the past to now and to the future,” she said, “connecting the puzzle pieces where I’m headed and

where I’ve been.”

Using recycled objects, she has added a tactile element

to her recent work, giving some of the pieces a

3D effect. “I use yarn and even junk mail,” she said. “I

put the junk mail in a blender with water and then use

a screen to drain it. What’s left is color paper pulp, which I make images from.”

The artwork utilizing this technique is a comment on how we are moving forward as a society, she explained. “The kids don’t know what junk mail is,” she said, adding that it doesn’t really matter. “They do know about

spam in their emails. I’m showing them you can make something beautiful out of something you throw away.”

Papp also uses fabric remnants, discarded scrap metal and buttons when crafting her artwork.

She had a show that exhibited 30 pieces from Oct. 31 to Nov. 4 at Long Island University CW Post’s SAL Gallery, in the B. David Schwartz Memorial Library. She brought some of the students from Mill Neck to see it.

“The kids were taken by the ASL sign for patience,

which is depicted in one of my paintings,” Papp said. “It gave them a personal connection. They asked me why

I included it. I told them we all need to have patience,

because good things are coming.”