Marvin Anchin, Great Neck’s paper-mâché master, is busy as usual at this time of year, but this year he’s working on two special projects at once.
The first project is an eight-foot tall giraffe that will be unveiled on Sunday afternoon, April 26, at South High in ceremonies celebrating the school district 200th anniversary. After its debut, Anchin’s work will be moved to the marble staircase inside the Phipps Administration Building where it will be on permanent display.
The second project? It’s a secret. For the last five years or so, Anchin has used his art to create life-size figures to highlight Great Neck South High School’s annual Senior Event, an event that takes place right before graduation day.
This project involves a thematic approach with his figures, only to be unveiled the night of the senior event. Last year Anchin produced figures of Dorothy, the Wicked Witch of The West and the Wizard of Oz, himself for the seniors. Prior to that, with lots of help from parents of the graduating seniors, he’s worked on projects involving the circus, Willy Wonka and prehistoric times.
His first event was in 2000 when his daughter Lisa Anchin graduated from South. Anchin created two alien figures for a space theme and parents and students had a great time posing with the creatures on graduation day outside C.W. Post’s Tilles Center.
“We’re going to put it on the steps,” says Anchin of his giraffe, “as a gift from the Community Education Program to the schools so when someone climbs eight feet up the stairs they’re going to be looking directly at the mascot of the Great Neck Schools.”
Anchin has lived in Great Neck’s Lake Success Hills with his wife, Tina, for 33 years. They’ve been married for 37 years, the same amount of time that Anchin taught art in the Lynbrook schools before retiring. Tina was a foreign language teacher in Bronxville.
Their daughter Lisa is an illustrator and has illustrated her first children’s book, A Penguin Named Patience. The book is about a penguin rescued during Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Lisa is a graduate of the Lakeville School and will be returning soon to do a book reading there. Her younger sister Dina is an art conservator at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
“It’s a party the parents throw for the kids,” says Anchin of the senior event. “It’s as big as the prom because some kids don’t go to the prom. The parents pick a theme and then I come in and I instruct a lot about what to do but I also help them and set up some characters for them. The parents really have fun.”
“When I retired from teaching, “ he explained. “I missed the kids completely so that’s why I started helping out at the senior events. Now I work with the parents for the kids.”
“I’ve been working with paper-mâché since I was a kid but I perfected it when I was teaching because they didn’t give me enough funds in my art programs to really teach art,” he recalled. Anchin uses a combination of aluminum foil, duct tape, chicken wire and acrylics with his paper-mâché.
He’s so busy with his current volunteer projects that he’s had little time to devote to his oil painting and sculpting career.
Anchin gets a lot of help from his neighbor, Joe Friedman. “We’ve been friends for many years,” says Anchin. “He’s my ‘second two hands.’ He’s a retired industrial engineer. As I build my frames he assists me and tells me how to make them stronger.” Joe’s wife, Linda, is a retired Village School teacher.
“Joe and I went to the Bronx Zoo and we sat for three hours,” said Anchin in recalling how the giraffe project started. “The giraffes were indoors and I studied every muscle, photographed every inch and how they move.”
Moving his figures once they’re finished is challenging. Volunteers arrive at his house with trucks when the time comes to move them.
“They’re not that heavy because they’re hollow,” he says. “We usually lay them carefully on their side.”
“One year we were moving a brontosaurus and covered it,” he recalled. “But the cover came off when we were driving and kids saw it and they started waving and getting excited. It was supposed to be a secret.”