Galleries : Art for the fun of it
Instructor Nancy Blank of Oak Bluffs arrives at the Featherstone Center for the Arts with a canvas bag full of supplies on a recent Thursday night. A short, friendly woman, she explains to the handful of students gathered in the studio on the Barnes Road campus that this is a class for people who just want to play.
"Art is supposed to be fun," she says, "and you go away with something to hang on the fridge." This week the project is collage.
Supplies include a collection of tissue paper in bright colors and white cardboard-weight paper. Each student receives two small paper cups: one with Modge Podge, a combination of glue and sealer, and one with water. Also laid out on the large, canvas-covered worktables are an array of brushes, pencils, magic markers and a bottle of India ink.
For inspiration, Ms. Blank has brought from her garden a bouquet of flowers in a copper espresso pot. She's already been at work to provide a model of what can be done with these simple materials.
"Put down a layer of glue first," Ms. Blank advises. "Start with light colors first. Don't use one color when you can use two." The instructions are minimal before she encourages everyone to start. Everyone gets busy tearing up pieces of tissue paper, mixing a rainbow of colors to approximate the shape of the vase and flowers in the bouquet.
Paper has a grain, Ms. Blank points out, so it's easier to tear in one direction than another and make interesting shapes. Part of the enjoyment in tissue-paper collage is that the colors can go over and under each other, and you can layer them as much as you want.
Ms. Blank brings a wealth of experience to Art Camp for Adults, as the class is called. In Maryland, where she lived before retiring with her husband to Martha's Vineyard, she taught classes in mixed media at Hagerstown Community College. In one of them, her class became a "girl's night out," where a group of friends took the workshop together, then went out for a beer afterwards.
"There's absolutely no pressure," she says. Ms. Blank loves to come up with new ideas. She has participated in a 24-hour "Raku Fest" that included movies, models, and a variety of workshops. She hopes to try that one at Featherstone, too. "I feel that creativity can be taught," she says. "You can learn to use all the creativity you have. That's much better than to say 'Oh, I wish I had done that.'"
The idea for an adult art camp came from the one Ms. Blank teaches for kids in Featherstone's Saturday program. It includes a little bit of everything - drawing, painting, printmaking, ceramics, and sculpture. "I try to cover all the bases," she says. "You find all these things that are fun to do, so you think somebody else might enjoy them, too. It stimulates your imagination and gives you a chance to work with materials you might not have before."
Ms. Blank loves to teach and spent 35 years as chairman of the art department at St. Maria Goretty High School in Hagerstown before retiring. Because she was leaving behind jobs she loved, she needed something to do and found her way to Featherstone.
"The facility is so wonderful," says Ms. Blank, who won first prize in mixed media at the All-Island Art Show this summer. "It's fun to be around." Martha's Vineyard's only year-round community arts center, Featherstone offers art classes in everything from monoprinting and flower arranging to photography and tapestry. There are music classes, too.
Ms. Blank's classes attract lots of teachers and vacationers during the summer. During the winter, more Islanders show up, and there are free classes for high school students.
Corine Buechner, from Bow Spring Lake in northern Minnesota, has been coming to Martha's Vineyard during the Bass Derby with her husband, a fisherman, for a number of years. "I kept reading about Featherstone Gallery in the paper, and I wanted to take a class," she explains. Soon she is regaling the class with a story about how her husband almost got sprayed by a skunk on the way home from a recent fishing excursion.
Susie Shabica from the Chicago area comes regularly to Martha's Vineyard during the off-season with her husband, Charlie. When Ms. Buechner mentions that her husband raises pigeons, Ms. Shabica tells her that she collects sport medals, and her favorites are from pigeon races.
Conversations like these bounce back and forth as everyone's collages take shape. Erika Kuryla, who is vacationing from upstate New York with her husband, came because she wanted a night out. A crafts teacher on a cruise ship, she grew up spending summers on Martha's Vineyard and is enjoying her busman's holiday.
It doesn't matter what degree of expertise people come with. All the materials are furnished, and the participants get to take something home.
"It's important to express yourself while it's not too late," Ms. Blank says. "The thing that you've done is lasting. Even more important, what happened here is lasting. You had a good time, and maybe you'll do it again."
Information on Featherstone's classes and events is available on its website, featherstone.com.
Art Camp for Adults, Thursdays, 7-9 pm, through Nov. 6, Featherstone, Barnes Road, Oak Bluffs. $30. 508-693-1850.