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Enter the Dragon

In Beijing, Mark Smith’s art is super hot.

Mark T. Smith is one of 10 artists selected by the U.S. Olympic Committee to commemorate the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games August 8-24. But for this Archmere grad, art is business. Right now he’s in Beijing selling T-shirts, hats, hoodies and watches that bear his famous image.
Simply titled “Olympic Dragon,” Smith’s magnificent 48-by-60 foot painting of a blue dragon breathing fire on the Olympic torch was the work that clinched the deal. But “Red Dragon,” a black-and-white dragon on a red and silver backdrop, graces the line of Olympic clothing on sale at the American pavilion of the Olympic Village in Beijing.
Smith’s paintings hang in at least 12 galleries around the world. Jay Leno, Sir Elton John and Neil Diamond collect his work.
Sensitive to China’s political controversies, Smith did not jump at the Olympic opportunity. He sought guidance from his father, retired Hercules executive Keith Smith, and his mother, Darla Smith, owner of Claire’s Fashions in Wilmington.
“My advice to him was that it was such an opportunity and tremendous exposure,” Darla says. “I saw it as nothing but a positive. So Mark went forward with it.”
Smith has been drawing since the age of 2.
“When he was 3, he did a picture of a color man, a man all blocked in different colors,” Darla says. “It’s a God-given talent.”
Smith, who lives in Washington, D.C., and Miami, says Archmere teacher Terry Newitt ignited his passion.
“The art department was in a state of transition then, and I got a lot of attention,” Smith says. “I sort of exceeded all the classes, so the rest of my time it became one-on-one tutelage with Terry, like an old-fashioned apprenticeship.”
Smith shuns academic art branding.
“A lot of that nomenclature is slippery,” he says. “My goal has always been to transcend labels. If you look at the body and breadth of the pieces, they fit in many categories. Let’s just say it’s sort of post-pop, a contemporary expression.”
Whatever it is, that red dragon really pops on a T-shirt.  —Maria Hess

 

Lara Zeises confesses that she’s excited about her made-for-TV movie. Photograph by Laura NovakOpportunity of a Lifetime?

Lara Zeises is, like, so totally freaking out.
The Wilmington resident, young adult author and confessed TV nerd witnesses this month the premier of “True Confessions of a Hollywood Starlet,” a made-for-TV movie based on the novel she wrote.
Even freakier, the movie, which debuts August 9 on Lifetime, stars none other than Delaware native Valerie Bertinelli.
Tween starlet Joanna “JoJo” Levesque plays Morgan Carter, a Hollywood party girl, rehabbing incognito in Fort Wayne, Indiana. “True Confessions” (written under the pseudonym Lola Douglas), is a cautionary fish-out-of-water tale, inspired in part by Drew Barrymore, who was a pint-sized partier during the ’80s.
“I’ve loved Drew Barrymore since I was little,” Zeises says. “The funny thing is, kids reading it today might think of Lindsay Lohan. It’s the timeless story of a young starlet gone astray. It’s a fun story, and it’s campy in places.”
Levesque and BertinelliZeises visited the set while crews were filming in Toronto. She traded character treatments with JoJo and penned voice-overs while screenwriters were striking.
“Being there was so trippy,” she says. “At first I was just giggling and goofy. You look up and here’s the school named after the school in your book.”
Zeises’ books have hit their mark with teen readers. “Confessions” and its sequel, “More True Confessions of a Hollywood Starlet,” were her forth and fifth foray into young adult novels.
“There’s something about young adult writing that’s very clean and pure,” she says. “There isn’t a lot of navel-gazing, you don’t have to wade through 74 metaphors to get to the point. And these kids really respond. I get the greatest emails. My favorite ones are the kids who say, ‘I hate to read, but I read your
book in four hours.’”  —Matt Amis

 

Lisa SandellFor Sooth

Lisa Sandell always had a thing for the tales of King Arthur. Her “Song of the Sparrow,” based on medieval tales and intended for teenage readers, comes out in paperback next month.
The Wilmington native and Concord High grad majored in medieval literature at UPenn and wrote her thesis on Sir Lancelot and Sir Thomas Malory. She spent her junior year studying in London, where the John William Waterhouse painting “The Lady of Shalott” inspired her to write “Song of the Sparrow.”
Sandell tells the tale of Elaine of Astolat, who fell in love with Sir Lancelot. Tired of the usual damsel-in-distress treatment of medieval women, Sandell gave her damsel strength and relevance.
“I wanted Elaine to be a strong, female protagonist that girl readers can connect to,” she says. “One who is as vulnerable as any other teenager and really steps up to the plate.
“I loved the sense of friendship and the beauty of the world Arthur created,” she says. “The values of equality. He struggled against his own demons, other people’s demons. It’s something every human being can relate to.”   —Matt Amis

 

Hannah Lees

The Hannahmator

Digital artist Hannah Lees finds Hollywood a hair-raising place. Check out “The Mummy 3” to see how she keeps it realistic.
 

Hannah Lees helps the Hulk look incredible, the Chipmunks adorable and The Mummy appear less than chummy.
Lees, a Hollywood visual effects artist, specializes in creating realistic computer-generated hair and clothing. Credits during her young career include “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” “The Incredible Hulk,” and Self-portrait“The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor,” slated for release August 1.
Last summer, Lees, 26, lived with her family in Dover after graduating from one of the best computer animation programs in the United States. She bolstered her portfolio by sketching ballerinas at the Dance Conservatory and designing and creating costumes.
Now she’s enjoying her role with Rhythm & Hues Studios, which won an Academy Award for Achievement in Visual Effects in 1995 for “Babe” and this year for “The Golden Compass.” The studio has given life to the Geiko gecko and the Coca-Cola polar bear.Lees created the animated characters Sarah and Fabio for her college thesis.
Lees’ talents in math and art, along with familiarity with special computer software, help her to create digital 3D fur and clothing that look and move like the real thing. During a scene in which the ’munks go bonkers after a caffeine overdose, Alvin’s fur and sweater, thanks to Lees, are realistically squashed against a glass wall.
“It’s very mathematical. I have to calculate how fur moves,” she says. “It’s tough to get their tails to fluff properly.”
Lees wrapped “The Mummy 3” in June. When it comes out, like the rest of us, she’ll head to the local theater.
“It’s neat to see how the audience reacts,” Lees says. “A kid during pre-screening of ‘Chipmunks’ was dancing in the aisles. He thinks they are real. That’s fun to see.”  —Drew Ostroski

 

Ashley ForliniA Diamond is a Girl’s Best Friend

Meet the force behind a Phillies farm team. She’s revolutionizing the baseball biz for women.

Though she’s never thrown a pitch or swung any lumber, Ashley Forlini is a heavy hitter with the Reading Phillies.
The UD grad is assistant general manager of the double-A farm club, so she’s had her hand in just about every facet of the organization—save selling peanuts. “I’m kinda here all the time,” she says.
Fourteen years ago she snagged a summer job as a Diamond Girl—sort of an in-game concierge—which quickly evolved. Forlini now writes in-game scripts, runs employee meetings and coordinates corporate clients.
She also oversaw the club’s fast-expanding internship program, hiring the eight to 10 summer interns to help keep things running smoothly. Of the club’s current crew of 22 full-time staffers, 16 started as one of Forlini’s interns.
Forlini’s dedication earned her the Rawlings Woman Executive of the Year Award. “When I think back to my first year, our internship seminar had few women,” she says. “We’re still way outnumbered, but it’s growing. Our internship program every year has more women pursuing a career in sports.”
Forlini isn’t requesting a call-up to the majors, though. “I love the uniqueness of minor league baseball,” she says. “I like to see the families sharing that togetherness at games. They’re creating a memory together.”   —Matt Amis

 

Judy Johnson signs autographs for local Little Leaguers in 1976. Photograph Courtesy of the Delaware Historical Society.In Praise of Judy Johnson

Our Negro Leagues hero gets a special night.

Joe Mitchell met William “Judy” Johnson at an autograph session in 1976 at the Best Store on Kirkwood Highway. Mitchell and two sons were waiting in a long line for Phillies catcher Bob Boone, but no line formed for “this elderly black gentleman.”
“No one knew who he was,” Mitchell says. “I asked him if he was Judy Johnson, and he smiled. He was so happy someone finally recognized him.”
A year earlier, Johnson had become the sixth former Negro Leagues player inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Now Mitchell and his Judy Johnson Memorial Foundation keep the memory of Johnson and the Negro Leagues alive.
On August 16, the foundation, along with the state and Wilmington, will sponsor the 13th annual The Delaware Sports Museum and Hall of Fame in Wilmington includes an exhibit on Judy Johnson. Photograph by Mike Biggs.“Judy Johnson Night—A Tribute to Negro League Baseball.” The celebration is part of a game between the Wilmington Blue Rocks and the Salem Avalanche at Daniel S. Frawley Stadium.
Former Philadelphia Stars’ catcher Stanley Glenn will throw out the first pitch and sign autographs and The Delaware Historical Society’s Ellen Rendle will sell and sign her book, “Judy Johnson: Delaware’s Invisible Hero.”
Johnson (1899–1989), a third baseman who often hit in the mid-.300s, spent 18 years in the Negro League, mostly with the Pittsburgh Crawfords and the Hilldale Club of Philadelphia. He retired in 1936, then scouted and coached for the Philadelphia A’s and Phillies. He lived in Marshallton.
Glenn calls Johnson “a gentleman, a family man and a terrific baseball player. He was a great American and the nicest man I’ve ever known.”
Of nearly 500 Negro League players, only 25 are alive. Glenn, president of the Negro League Baseball Players Association, remains proud of the game’s humblest stars. So does Mitchell.
“Judy Johnson was Delaware’s invisible hero, just like the night I first met him,” he says. —J.F. Pirro
 

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