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ART CLASSES FOR ALL AGES

BY SCOTT SMITH // Times Record

Designed to educate and inspire students of all ages and skill levels, several new art classes are helping promote creative thinking and colorful expression throughout the region, according to the teacher.

Ana Maria, a renowned artist who has been featured at The Unexpected, an annual Fort Smith arts festival, as well as events in other regions, is teaching the classes. The classes are offered in five-week and six-week cycles at La Colmena at the Universal Chapel, the building at 1300 Garrison Ave. that boasts bright, multi-colored paint designs on its exterior. The next cycle of classes, which were made possible via a partnership with 64.6 Downtown, a downtown initiative created to promote the arts, will begin April 4 and end May 4, she said.

This Fort Smith venue, La Colmena at the Universal Chapel, is where renowned artist Ana Maria is conducting art classes for students of all ages and experience levels. 
SCOTT SMITH/TIMES RECORD

"This is completely independent of The Unexpected, but all of this is happening thanks to The Unexpected and 64.6," said Maria, a native of Barranquitas, Puerto Rico, who moved from Houston to Fort Smith in June. "Some classes include materials, and the average cost of a class is $150 for classes once a week for five weeks. The classes are 2½ hours per class."

The upcoming classes will include Basic Painting for Adults (Session 1 will be from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays; Session 2 will be from 5-7:30 p.m. Tuesdays; and Session 3 will be from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesdays); Basic Painting for Kids Ages 11-18 (Session will be from 5-7:30 p.m. Wednesdays); Basic Drawing for Kids Ages 11-18 (Session will be from 5-7:30 p.m. Thursdays); and Creative Workshops for Kids Ages 5-10 (Session will be from 1-3 p.m. Saturdays.)

"After moving to Fort Smith, I felt like I wanted to offer something more to the city than just murals," said Maria, whose mural art can be seen on the north wall of the Kress Building, 812 Garrison Ave., and the large, west-facing wall near Old Town Grain & Feed Co. "During my residency with The Unexpected, I felt connected to the young artists. I also noticed a huge amount of people who said they were into art when they were younger but can't remember the last time they dedicated time to drawing or painting.

 

"I believe everybody can create and develop art skills, and that everybody has talent," she added. "I just wanted to show them all the different kinds of art that exists in the world, and how possible it is for anybody to become an artist at any age, since art is something we all have in common."


 

Maria's previous class cycle, which ended Tuesday, drew 20 students and was an artistic and social success, Maria said. Although all of her students in those classes spoke English, Maria said she is open to teaching in both English and Spanish during future classes.

"I don't grade the students, but I certify them for the completion of the class," Maria said. "I assign them homework and help them improve their skills."

For area residents Allison Montiel, Candace Berry and Donna Barnett, Maria's recent Basic Drawing Class was full of welcomed challenges and eye-opening experiences. Maria's creative skills, knowledge of art and words of encouragement comprised a "rare" opportunity, Montiel said.

"Ana Maria is a very creative person, so the idea of taking an art class from her was exciting," said Montiel, who lives in Fort Smith. "To be around her and absorb some of her ways of looking at things, that was really cool."

Maria spent the first part of the recent class discussing different ways to "see" and "observe" art, Montiel said. Instead of simply seeing a flat, two-dimensional drawing or painting, one should "study where the light and shadows fall" in the art piece, she said.

"Ana Maria tuned us into how her mind works, and it was fun being around someone who is abstract and lets the creativity flow out of her," Montiel said.

"I'm a serious beginner, like, it's sad," she added with a laugh. "I was drawing stick figures before, and my kids said, 'That is bad.' But once I got my mind shifted to study something in the class, all of a sudden, I started seeing everything differently. I would look at a picture in a magazine and instead of flipping past it, I would ask, 'Could I draw that?' I would give it a shot."


 

Berry, who lives near Bonanza, also found the class thrilling, adding it was initially difficult because of her inexperience in drawing. She specializes in quilt art and textile designs and soon found herself drawn to Maria's teaching methods.

"I would sketch out rough sketches before, but I wanted to learn more on how to draw properly," Berry said. "I've had some success showing my art quilts and textile designs, but I can always learn more."

Barnett said she enjoyed Maria's ability to "guide" the students along in the class. Maria answered questions about technique and helped each student discover what worked best for creating art, she said.

"I think Ana Maria offered a lot of encouragement for us," said Barnett, a Fort Smith resident. "Perfection is sometimes un-achievable, depending on what you think is perfection. Ana Maria gave us encouragement to find out what inspires us to draw."

Among Barnett's favorite creations were charcoal drawings of a pyramid, sphere and cube, as well as a drawing of her cat.

"I enjoyed being able to use my fingers and kind of smear the charcoal around, to see what kind of shading and things I could do."

The colorful venue added to the creative process for Montiel.

"La Colmena is what Ana Maria calls the building," she said. "'The Hive' is what it means."

Berry said she was proud to be a lifelong fan of art. For her, creating and admiring art have been therapeutic.

"It's been a good, creative outlet, and it's relaxing to do those sorts of things," Berry said. "I think art is something that is dear to my heart.

"And you can look at older paintings from the 17th century, and you see the clothes they wore and how their lifestyle was," she added. "It's all really exciting."

Claire Kolberg, event director for 64.6 Downtown, called the classes an "exciting" partnership.

"We are thrilled to have Ana Maria, a world-renowned artist, call Fort Smith, Ark., her home," she said. "Even more exciting is that she has embraced our quality of life and sense of purpose."
Maria admitted that she has been impressed by her students' work.

"It's an honor for me that they chose to be in my classes," she said. "I want to unify the art community in Fort Smith and to create an active artistic society with kids and adults. I want to help them expand their knowledge and find their own style to form free, confident future artists."
Maria predicted that some of her students will continue to pursue art as a profession.

"All of them are very smart and creative," she said. "I can see them being successful and doing wonderful, creative things."