Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Art in the making

All those weekends we didn’t make it to all kinds of cultural events that landed on my calendar in theory only – well, last Sunday seemed to make up for every museum, concert and performance I tried to get my family to, only to end up going for a bike ride or watching a football game instead.

Holly and my mother and I attended the Open Studios event at Art Space-Maynard. Art Space, we discovered, is an artists’ enclave located in a former elementary school – the 1940s kind, a wide red brick building with a steep concrete staircase leading to the center entrance and echo-ey linoleum hallways. Now, over 40 working artists have carved studio space out of former classrooms, offices and meeting areas.

I had never thought of taking Holly to an open studios event before, but it turned out to be a match made in heaven. Holly loves to make art, but I’ve often been disappointed that she doesn’t take more of an interest in viewing art – she frequently shrugs off my suggestion that we visit a museum or a gallery, even if there’s a particular exhibit that I think would engage her. But seeing how immediately she immersed herself in the studio-touring experience on Sunday, I could start to see why this appealed to her so much more. Rather than viewing finished art hanging on a wall or secured inside a display case – art so complete and professional it probably would look nothing like anything she had ever worked on – this was the down-and-dirty creation phase that we were witnessing. As we strolled amidst the work spaces of painters, sketchers, sculptors, metal workers, wood carvers, jewelry makers, textile crafters, and more, Holly stared: not only at the work itself, some finished and some just barely under way, but also at the clutter of materials and supplies that filled each work space. Paints and clay and canvases, yes, but also scraps of paper torn from magazines, snapshots pinned to bulletin boards, feathers, flowers, seashells. Here she could see something that reminded her of the kind of work she likes to do herself: using clutter and mess to create something.

Although it wasn’t an event geared toward children, the artists were uniformly welcoming to all three of us. Not only did they talk to my mother and me about their work; they drew Holly into the discussion as well. One artist who works in the plastic-coated thread known to campers everywhere as gimp gave Holly four different strands to work with and showed her how to weave a pattern of her own. Another invited her to sketch her own self-portrait and tack it to the studio wall. A sculptor listened to Holly describe the pottery class she attended last year, and all the artists offered snacks and beverages.

All in all, Holly was transfixed by the opportunity to see artists at work. When I asked her if she was ready to leave, she said “No, I want to stay a little longer: this is way more fun than I imagined it would be.” And the next morning, expecting to have to spend the usual five minutes or more trying to get her to emerge from sleep and head down to breakfast, I was surprised to find her sitting up in bed working her gimp pattern already.

Of course, there was a minor down side as well. I am forever asking Holly to keep her room neater, but every clean-up is followed within hours by the start of a new project that requires her once again to scatter crayons, markers, fabric, beads, thread, paper and tubes of glue all over the floor of her room. Now she had a reason. “Mom, did you see how messy their studios were?” she asked me the day after the open studios event. “Artists need to be surrounded by art supplies. That’s why I keep my room so messy.”

Well, I still have the authority to overrule that excuse. For now, it’s a bedroom, not a studio, and she’ll still be required to put everything away at the end of the day. But I think I understand a little bit better why it’s so hard for me to convince her to visit a museum. Never mind the classic masterpieces of the art world. Show Holly some crusty tubes of paint and a scattering of colored pencils, and she’s in her element.

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