For Mr. Mani, Passion Comes Naturally

When speaking with Bendis Mani it’s almost impossible not to get caught up in his infectious enthusiasm for the arts. His eyes widen and he leans in as he describes his approach to teaching techniques for creating art and its underlying history.

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Published January 13, 2012 5:54 PM
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manithumbWhen speaking with Bendis Mani it’s almost impossible not to get caught up in his infectious enthusiasm for the arts. His eyes widen and he leans in as he describes his approach to teaching techniques for creating art and its underlying history.

 

By Sarah Varney

 

When speaking with Bendis Mani it’s almost impossible not to get caught up in his infectious enthusiasm for the arts. His eyes widen and he leans in as he describes his approach to teaching techniques for creating art and its underlying history.

 

“I believe that art has a lot to do with feelings,” said Mr. Mani, who has taught the subject at Rye High School since 2008. “You have to show students the underlying passion along with technique. When we do a project, I do it with them. I want them to see how it happens, and feel it.”

 

maniArt is experiencing a bit of a renaissance at Rye High. Studio Art, a beginning elective, now comprises six sections with 12 to 15 students each. In past years, the course had just one section. The curriculum includes projects in sculpting, self-portraiture, printing, abstract figure drawing, and set design.

 

Set design is one of Mr. Mani’s first loves and he comes by it naturally. Both his parents, who now live in Harrison along with his wife, Juela, and daughters, have theater backgrounds. Piero Mani is known in his native country as the father of Albanian theater and his mother, Pavlina, is a well-known actress with many film and theater credits. They have lived here since the fall of communism in Albania in 1991. “They got out just as soon as they could,” Mr. Mani said.

 

“Getting out” was relatively easy because Mr. Mani’s grandfather was an American citizen. He’d studied engineering at MIT in the 1920s and became a citizen. He graduated and went back to Albania in 1930 to work for the government, but was later executed by the Nazis for the “crime” of holding American citizenship.

 

After coming to the U.S., Mr. Mani took up a career in set design in Colorado. His life, however,  was about to change. While working one day, he had an accident with a table saw that nearly severed his right hand.

 

“I thought I’d never be able to paint again, so I looked to teaching,” said Mr. Mani. He set off to become an art teacher, studying at Herbert Lehman College. Six months after his accident he found that, even with a missing forefinger, he had regained the ability to paint. “That was the happiest day of my life.”

 

Another of his best days was the day he received a call from Dr. James Rooney, then principal at RHS, about a temporary teaching job. “Dr. Rooney changed my life.”

 

Mr. Mani’s own work takes a back seat to both his family and his teaching responsibilities, but he has found time to take his own painting in a new direction. He’s now teaching himself the art of baroque expressionist portraiture, a painstaking method that uses many layers of paint to create works that are simultaneously realistic and magical.

 

His favorite hobby outside the classroom is surprising, but his passion for it is not.

 

“I fish for everything, and this year my daughter Maga caught her first fish! It was wonderful!”

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