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Roberts named WGCU MAKERS

By Staff | Apr 13, 2016


A well-known Sanibel artist, who was one of five women to be named WGCU MAKERS, was recognized for making a difference in Southwest Florida by educating the public through her art and social activism.

“That type of recognition means that there is great value to what I am doing. It means that I am being acknowledged for the work that I have done tirelessly,” Myra Roberts said. ” I am very proud of this recognition. I can carry my work into the future, which I plan on doing. It’s very encouraging.”

A special premiere screening and reception was held last month at the WGCU studio on the campus of Florida Gulf Coast University. After all five women were featured in a five minute video, they had the opportunity to further share their stories to those in attendance.

Those videos were produced by Chelle Koster Walton, who began producing and writing for WGCU as a freelancer 10 years ago.

“When the MAKERS started as a national PBS series four or five years ago, Barbara Linstrom, executive producer, came to me and asked if I was interested in doing it at a local level for WGCU,” which Koster Walton did not hesitate to accept. “To take that to the local level was a really fun project.”

The first year, 21 women were selected, 14 the second year, and five the last two years. Next year will be the final year for WGCU MAKERS.

“I pre-interview every candidate before they get on camera and learn their story and pick out what I think is going to be the most interesting parts. I am pretty familiar with their stories,” Koster Walton said, adding that the non-camera interview typically took an hour to get five minutes of footage. “I edit it down and script it.”

She also accompanies the women’s stories with photographs they provide. Koster Walton said she often times caters the questions and story to the best images she received from the women.

“I’ve gotten to know some incredible women. Their stories are really amazing. I have learned so much,” she said.

Roberts said that Koster Walton is an amazing person.

“She made every woman so comfortable and she brought out the best in all of us. She made us feel like we were talking to a friend. Very talented film maker,” she said. “She did such a careful job of sending us really important questions about our life and childhood. You really had to go back in your past and answer honestly.”

A MAKER is “an authentic, passionate and inspiring woman who will leave a special lasting impact on the people, environment, economy and/or culture of Southwest Florida.” In addition, the chosen MAKERS leave a legacy, build community, defy social norms and serve as a first in her field.

“I have always been an educator. I taught kindergarten through high school for 25 years,” Roberts said. “I am using my expertise as an educator when I do these art exhibitions and lectures.”

Ten years ago, a new project began for Roberts, one that carries her into the next generation of witnesses to the most horrific event in history – the Holocaust.

She took on this project for a couple of reasons. The first was because her father lived in the war town region of Poland where the Bielski’s fled into the woods. The second stemmed from a friend of hers who had numbers on her arm. She discovered that her friend’s mother kept a diary, now under glass in a museum in Israel.

The diary, which was written in German, was translated into English for Roberts. After she finished reading what this woman had experienced, the last passage spoke to her – the hope of someone sharing what had happened to her in the woods.

Roberts decided it was important to use her artistic ability to paint imagery straight from the words written in the diary.

“I dedicate my life through my art as a social commentary artist,” she said. “I am following in the footsteps of other artists who believed that art can carry an extremely powerful message.”

Her journey has given her the opportunity to interview many survivors, heroes and humanitarians, resulting in sharing their stories through her artwork. In about a month, Roberts will travel to the Broncs to meet a 92-year-old woman, who will be featured in her 2018 exhibition at the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center.

The portrait is incredibly important to her because this woman is one of the only living female Bielski Partisans. She said she met the son of the head of the partisan group, Tuvia Bielski, who has connected her with a few living partisans from that era.

“These people lived in the woods. They were survivors. They weren’t victims of the Holocaust. They protected innocent men, women and children and survived two years in the woods,” Roberts said. “If I don’t get their stories, their stories will disappear.”

She said she has become dedicated to the fact that through education, she can really change the mindset of people starting at a young age by teaching children they can find ways to resolve problems.

“Through looking at the past, we can change the present,” Roberts said.

Although she has dedicated a great deal of time to her Holocaust project, she still creates her vintage artwork. Roberts said for every vintage painting she completes, she also completes a Holocaust painting.

“I am incorporating cross cultural imagery by using Buddha in a lot of my art as an uplifting, positive image next to the images of war,” she said, as a way to exemplify war and peace.

To view the MAKERS videos, visit www.wgcumakers.org.

Follow Meghan @IslanderMeghan on Twitter.