VACI Young Artists teacher Hritzay publishes children’s book

Katie McLean | Staff Photographer
Tami Hritzay teaches for the Special Studies young artist program and in March published a children’s book titled Hole in the Wall: J.B. and the Pirates.

Tami Hritzay, an art teacher in the Special Studies Young Artists program at Chautauqua Institution, said she spent 30 years blabbing to everyone about how she wanted to write and illustrate a children’s book.

“I thought, ‘I better put up or shut up,’ ” Hritzay said. “When I started to write it down, I finally had more incentive to finish it.”

In March, Hritzay self-published her first book, The Hole in the Wall: J.B. and the Pirates, which will eventually become the first entry in a series. In the book, pirates crash into a young girl’s kindergarten classroom and start bullying two kids in her class. Some boys try to send them through a time portal back to their own time period.

Later books will feature a horse named Tega, after a friend Hritzay made while teaching art in a Navajo school in Arizona.

“I love adventure,” Hritzay said. “I want kids to have a good time, but to learn to treat people well along the way.”

The Young Artists program — a facet of the Special Studies program managed by Visual Arts at Chautauqua Institution — lets children have a good time while learning a new skill. Hritzay started teaching youth art classes at the Institution 17 years ago; in 2005, a former student’s mother recommended her to Lois Jubeck, VACI’s managing director, as a teacher for Young Artists classes.

“I think it’s something that fills a niche here,” Jubeck said. “The kids in the Young Artists program are all kids who love art, and then they come to us to extend that activity in the summer when they’re not getting it at school.”

Young Artists classes break down into three age groups, starting with 6-year-olds. Hritzay works largely with those 6-year-olds, although she has also worked with older kids this summer. This season, she has led lessons on polymer clay and on watercolors. She works as a mixed media artist, having created paintings and murals.

Hritzay was excited for her students to see her finished book at the signing held last Friday at the Author’s Alcove.

“For years, I have been at Chautauqua and I have walked by the bookstore when authors were signing books,” she said. “I thought, ‘I want to be there.’ And it’s finally come true.”