The dark knight returns… to high school
Backstage at North Bergen High becomes Bat Cave for annual art show
by Art Schwartz
Reporter staff writer
Jun 01, 2014 | 4066 views | 0 0 comments | 34 34 recommendations | email to a friend | print
WORKS OF ART – Teacher Steven Defendini displays a student work from the upcoming show.
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This year’s annual art show at High Tech High School will have a very special guest. Batman himself is making an appearance – complete with his entire Bat Cave and Bat Cycle.

This particular Bat Cave and all its contents has been crafted by students from the school, using mostly found materials. But don’t think that means it’s anything less than spectacular. Everything is life-size and meticulously detailed.

“This entire area will be dressed and illuminated,” said Art Teacher Steven Defendini, who coordinated the “secret” Bat Cave project. “I told the principal I was making just the bike. He doesn’t know about all this.”

Until he reads this newspaper.

“We have everything ready to go,” said Defendini about the project, which has taken over the backstage area of the auditorium. “It’ll look like a cave, the sound effects of a cave and everything.”

The annual art show is a tradition at the high school, collecting the finest works of the students. Years ago it was only for advanced art students but more recently has been open to all. Last year for the first time Defendini gathered a group of students for a special project: creating a full scale replica of Iron Man.
The public is invited to visit the Bat Cave at the High Tech High School annual art show from 6 to 8 p.m. on June 4.
“This year we wanted to do something not just bigger for the sake of bigger but just better quality, so that’s where all this came from,” he said. Beginning in February, he worked with a core group of about a dozen students to discreetly compile the project.

“They keep coming up with new ideas to implement,” he said of his students. “The original idea was just the bike but once we saw the space we realized it could be adapted to simulate the cave, or at least part of it. They’ve been helping me come up with ideas on how to display everything. Those weapons weren’t supposed to be next to the suit but it just looked better so we attached them there. It’ll be lit internally with smoke coming out from behind. The only thing I think we’re missing is Ben Affleck.”

Fashion bandits

“They’re kind enough to allow fashion to be part of the art show,” said Marlene Sapoff, who teaches fashion and textiles at the school. “So we have all our mannequins dressed out front almost like a runway show. And we’re also collaborating and working on a secret project.”

Since we’ve already offered one spoiler in this article, here’s another: The secret fashion project is a dress made of flowers and organic materials. The design and execution are a group effort from the fashion students

“We’re going to create a whole dress, wait till you see it,” said Sapoff. “We’re going to fill the whole thing and do a whole train behind—Lady Gaga-inspired. I said to the kids, go wild. So then these kids get inspired.”

All the materials that make up the dress, like most of the other items in the fashion area, are recycled.

“I don’t turn anything down,” said Sapoff. “All my yarns were donated by a factory across the street that unfortunately went out of business. The community has been so wonderful in the respect that every time I’ve reached out, all the local manufacturers and people here have donated. In the show you’ll see handbags and book bags and little makeup cases we made. And it’s pretty much all green in the respect that it’s recycled everything.”

Sapoff, a bundle of energy and enthusiasm, came to the school from a prior career in the fashion industry. Meaning, in essence, she recycled herself.

Art of all styles

This year’s show includes a wide variety of media, spanning the school’s many types of art courses.

“There’s painting, drawing, digital media,” said Defendini. “I think we have a small video that we’re going to put in. There’s ceramics. There’s sculptures. And some really spectacular paintings.”

That’s a fact. Senior Celeste Izquierdo has already exhibited her work in galleries in New York and New Jersey and sold pieces. Among her works exhibited will be a Johnny Depp Mad Hatter rendered in colored pencils and pastels.

Izquierdo intends to pursue an art career upon graduation. “I would like to be a Disney animator,” she said. “I’m learning now. I’m really interested in doing animated films for kids.”

Asked what got her involved in art to begin with, she said, “I just started with a coloring book. I fell in love with it at the age of six.”

“I just started and I liked doing it,” said senior Lourdes Luna, who is showing an embroidered skirt she designed, and who worked on the secret dress project. “I tried by myself and then learned how to use the [sewing] machine. It’s not hard but it took time because I didn’t have one myself. I just like making stuff. It’s really satisfying when you make something by yourself. You know it’s good quality. Something you make means more.”

“With me, it was my older sister, because she draws,” said senior Milagros Oviedo about her inspiration. “When I was younger I would see her drawings and then I started drawing myself.”

Oviedo is exhibiting drawings, watercolor paintings, and some digital pieces. This is her second time participating in the show.

“During my freshman year I had one piece. It was fun because I had teachers who went to the art show and were like ‘Omigod, I saw what you did.’ Somebody actually wanted to buy my art but I said no. I wanted to keep it.”

“Someone wanted to buy the artwork off of me but it’s like a child,” said Izquierdo. “I didn’t want to let it go. But that’s the whole fun of the artist, to sell our artwork and let them enjoy our art pieces. It was a great experience because you get to meet other artists who have the same passion as you. It’s just really fun.”

The High Tech High School Art Show runs from Monday, June 2 to Wednesday, June 4. For the second year in a row it will be open to the public for one evening only, from 6 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday.

Come down and say hi to Batman. And check out the secret mural that will be unveiled during the show. Or weren’t we supposed to mention that?

Art Schwartz may be reached at

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