Jan. 19 2016 04:40 PM

The benefits of encouraging kids to embrace artistic skills

Pall Jenkins and Anna Zappoli

Back in December, clothing chain Old Navy found itself in hot water after releasing a toddler-sized line of shirts that read "Young Aspiring Artist." A nice sentiment for sure, but the problem was that the word "artist" was blatantly crossed out and underneath was written in professions like "astronaut" and "president." Old Navy eventually discontinued the shirts after public outcry, but the message of the shirts was clear: A child aspiring to be a professional artist is still considered, well, undesirable and unrealistic.

For local artist Anna Zappoli, this attitude that children's artistic inclinations should be tempered in lieu of more reputable (read: profitable) professions is a bit foreign to her. The daughter of a marble worker, she grew up in Catania on the island of Sicily, off the coast of Italy. There, she says, if a child showed artistic promise, it was something that would be embraced and nurtured.

"You're very respected when you're an artist in Italy," says Zappoli, in her art-covered home in Bay Park. "One of my teachers when I was in middle school requested to talk to my mother. I told my mother and she went to see my teacher. It was a private meeting so I was left outside. I didn't think it was anything bad, but I didn't know what it was. My mom came out and I asked her what it was about and she said the teacher told her that I should continue to do art. She thought that I was very talented and that I should continue with it."

Zapolli was the first in her family to attend art school at the Instituto D'Arte di Catania where she graduated with a degree in painting. During her studies, she met a young American Navy pilot in the summer of 1965 and fell in love. After moving to the United States, the couple started a family while bouncing around the U.S. and eventually settling in San Diego. Having an artist mother and a military father made for an interesting dynamic for the couple's children. For one of those children, middle son Pall (who was born Paul) Jenkins, the desire to pursue a path in the arts was evident early on.

"Mom would always give me art supplies and pencils. I drew a lot when I was a kid. I wasn't very good, but I was definitely creative," says Jenkins. "I had this series where I drew hundreds of fish. Some had teeth and some were really big, but I was obsessed. I just thought that was the most amazing thing."

"I still have those," adds Zappoli, who went back to using her maiden name after splitting with Pall's father in the mid '80s. "I kept them."

One could look at Zappoli and Jenkins as one of the more prominent local examples of what happens when a parent encourages their children to embrace their artistic skills rather than ignore them. Zappoli is a successful painter and occasional sculptor who has showcased her work in galleries all over the city. Jenkins is one of the more prolific musicians in the San Diego music scene, leading bands like Three Mile Pilot, Black Heart Procession and Mr. Tube & the Flying Objects. But it wasn't always this way. Zappoli acknowledges that she didn't really try to become a professional artist until Pall was almost grown.

"We grew together in a lot of ways," Zappoli says. "I loved my life and my children, but as they got older, I realized I wanted to do my art every day. When I saw that first poem that Pall wrote, it touched my heart. I was so emotional about it. I was taking art classes at the time to get back into art and I was struggling, but then I saw what Pall wrote, I said, 'Pall, do this! Do this!' I saw his gift. And itís a beautiful gift to be able to express yourself in that way."

"Me and my mom were always a team," Jenkins says. "We always shared music and art. Any art she did, she shared with me. Whenever I had a band or a show, she would come to see it."

This mutually beneficial encouragement has helped both Zappoli and Jenkins become better at their respective crafts over the years. Zappoli is clearly proud of her son and has his album covers and band clippings hung on the wall all over the house. She realizes that it might be harder for non-artist parents to be fully encouraging of their kids' talents, but says they should never dissuade them.

"She never said not to do music and not to do art," says Jenkins about his mother. "She would always give me other options, but she never said not to do something. Not to do art or music or all the things I wanted do."

"I encouraged my son and all of my children to follow their own paths," says Zappoli. "From the beginning, when I would see him play music or writing, it was complete freedom to express himself and take away that fear. For me to see that, it's a great feeling."

“Save the Arctic”
Images courtesy of the artist

“When Ice Melts”

Albums by Three Mile Pilot and Black Heart Procession


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