GOUVERNEUR – The walls of Maria Mantia’s home look like that of any photographer and are covered with beautiful framed images taken from her surroundings in St. Lawrence County.
The difference between Ms. Mantia though and most other photographers is she is legally blind.
While not completely blind, Ms. Mantia cannot drive and relies on her daughter Anita and brother Frank to bring her to the places where she’ll find the next image to frame and hang on her walls.
Photography is also a relatively new passion for Ms. Mantia, who until 2013 lived in Brooklyn.
Her move to St. Lawrence County came as a result of the borough’s gentrification — a legal, but controversial practice where landlords will pay low-income tenants to move elsewhere, allowing them to renovate properties and then charge significantly more for rent.
“When we were living there we paid $750 a month for a roach-infested, railroad apartment,” Ms. Mantia said. “Now he’s charging $2,500 a month.”
If given the opportunity to move back to the city though, Ms. Mantia said she would decline.
“I don’t ever want to go back, even for a visit,” she said. “Here the people are 90% good and 10% bad. There it’s the opposite.”
When she was younger and living in the city, she did help her brother, who also dabbles in photography, develop pictures in a dark room, but until moving to St. Lawrence County, she says she never really considered photography a serious hobby of her own.
“After I moved up here I saw how beautiful everything was and I wanted to take pictures,” she said, explaining either her daughter or brother will take her for a ride. When she sees something she likes, she then asks them to stop the car so she can get out and take pictures.
In addition to being legally blind, Ms. Mantia is also a cancer survivor, who deals with mental health issues and receives Care Coordination Services through United Helpers Mosaic.
In fact it was her care coordinator, Trina Bedford, who encouraged her to submit one of her pieces in the annual Mosaic Art Show.
After much consideration, Ms. Mantia decided to enter a piece she titled, “A Better Place.” That picture shows the reflection of trees and clouds on a still river.
When asked where she took the photo, she said she cannot recall for sure. “I’ve visited so many places up here and they’re all so beautiful,” she said, adding though she is sure that the picture, like all of her pieces, was taken in St. Lawrence County.
On the day of the Mosaic Show, Ms. Mantia said she was shocked when it was announced her photo was selected as the best in the show.
That selection earned her piece a trip to the annual New York State Association of Community and Residential Agencies (NYSACRA) Art Show, which was held this past spring at the Sagamore Hotel & Resort in Lake George — a show which features hundreds of pieces from artists all across the state.
When her piece was selected for an honorable mention at that show, Ms. Mantia said she was “flabbergasted.”
Now, she said she considers herself a true artist, noting that the recent recognition her work has received has given her a much needed boost of confidence.
“It felt really good winning and being recognized,” she said. “A few years ago I wanted to enter one of my pictures in another art show, but was told maybe I should consider entering one of my brother’s sticks (her brother carves walking sticks) instead. That made me think, ‘what, am I not good enough?’ Now I know I am.”
Ms. Bedford said that’s exactly what Mosaic staff was striving for when they decided to host their first art show several years ago.
“One of the reasons we do the art show is to help boost people’s confidence,” she said. “It’s clearly working.”