Art@theBu: Morristown’s new art café


It may not compare with, say, La Nouvelle Athènes, the Parisian café of Matisse, Van Gogh and Degas. Not yet, anyway.

But Zebu Forno is attracting plenty of serious artists and art fans to Morristown every Sunday.

“Art@theBu” consists of three-hour sketching sessions. The camaraderie is one of the main draws. And we’re pretty sure the French Impressionists never tasted pizza like Zebu’s. Or any pizza, for that matter.

“Instead of one on one–me and my drawing–it’s me and my friends and my drawing,” said Carole Dakake, a Newton artist who enjoys the atmosphere and the $10 price, which includes pizza, a soft drink and a model.

“It’s hard to get a model for $10,” Carole said.  Jamie Cheatham, an aspiring dancer from Morristown, said he landed Sunday’s modeling gig through a friend at Zebu.

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The sessions are the brainchild of Mendham couple Chris and Danielle Merzatta, who got things rolling over the summer with a month-long Open Drawing Studio at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Morristown. They raised money for that venture via, a site that challenges patrons to pledge donations.

Carole and quite a few of the other Zebu artists got hooked by the Open Drawing Studio, or by artists who raved about it. One of them is John Atura. He has his own studio in West Caldwell but came to Zebu this week because “it’s Sunday night, there’s a model, and I felt like drawing.”  (John will host a six-hour MAMathon! drawing session on Nov. 19 at the Montclair Art Museum.)

Orthopedic surgeon David Rubenfeld of Dover studied briefly at Johns Hopkins University to become a medical illustrator in the tradition of Dr. Frank NetterDavid is generous with art advice for novices.

“Learning to see is the key, and that’s the fun of it,”  he said, describing a trance-like state of immersion.

A gouache painting by Randolph artist Ed Sprafkin atArt@theBu at Zebu Forno in Morristown. Gouache is a style using opaque watercolors. The model is Jamie Cheatham of Morristown.Photo by Kevin Coughlin
A gouache painting by Randolph artist Ed Sprafkin at Art@theBu at Zebu Forno in Morristown. Gouache is a style using opaque watercolors. The model is Jamie Cheatham of Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“The focus is good for my A.D.D.!” joked Kasia Czechowicz, a Morris Plains resident who teaches biology at Felician College.

Dina Lewis of Mt. Arlington said the Sunday sessions provide a welcome emotional break from the demands of her job as a hospice aide.

“It’s relaxing,” agreed her friend, Mary Johnston, a high school chemistry teacher from Hamburg. So much so that Kim and Bill Eckstrom, a retired couple from Fanwood, said they draw every night before bedtime.

Art@theBu is one of many experiments by Zebu owner Bill Oliver to generate foot traffic at his 9 South St. venue. Deejay nights, live music on Saturdays, game nights, book club meetings–he is open to suggestions.  ARTS! By The People is recording performances of high school bands at Zebu.

Art exhibitions also are becoming a regular feature. Chris Merzatta’s portraits from the Open Drawing Studio are on display, and for sale, at Zebu. Danielle, a Morristown High School alumnus, is planning more shows.

Chris, 36, studied painting at the University of Georgia and has worked in construction on the island of Mustique. Danielle, 28, holds a master’s degree in metalsmithing from the Cranbrook Academy of Art.  Merzatta Design is their jewelry business.

But drawing remains near and dear to them; Chris proposed after a day of drawing together.

The couple’s creativity extends to their married name, Merzatta, an amalgamation of their surnames. Their greatest creation, 13-month-old daughter Laurily, is named for the late sisters Lauren and Emily Failla, friends of Danielle’s.

Laurily is the star attraction at Art@theBu.  However, it’s going to be awhile before Morristown’s aspiring Matisses, Van Goghs and Degases can immortalize her. Laurily doesn’t like to sit still for very long.








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