School taps into kids' creative juices

March 26, 2004|by KATE COLEMAN

The walls of the Contemporary Art Gallery at 6 W. Franklin St. in Hagerstown are filled with paintings in several media, drawings - a wide variety of work by accomplished artists. An adjacent gallery displays photographic works - landscapes and local landmarks, still lifes, a portrait of a single yellow rose.

Many forms of expression are represented, and down a flight of stairs, artistic expression continues into the future.

Contemporary School of the Arts, a project of photographer Ron Lytle, is a longtime dream that is becoming a reality. That dream is to offer children opportunities to release their artistic creativity, said artist Harold Howard, one of the school's more than a dozen volunteer teachers.

"I wanted to do something for someone else," Lytle said of the school.

The classroom space is not fancy. A table holds colored markers and crayons. A mural at the bottom of the stairs is titled "The Underground." It depicts Harriet Tubman with her lamp, lighting the way to freedom.


A removable mural - done on a bedsheet - hangs on a wall in a second room. A child's penciled farm scene decorates another wall, and there's a whimsical portrait of a cat on another.

Howard said the little girl who painted the feline said she can't draw, but painting is another matter.

"When she touched a paintbrush, she was Rembrandt," he said.

"There's no such thing as 'I can't,'" Howard said.

The school offers several classes, including introductions to art, oil painting, pencil, crayon, chalk, watercolors and acrylic as well as an introductory photography class. Fourteen artists - photographers, painters, muralists among them - form the school's volunteer teaching staff.

So far, there are about 50 students from ages 9 to 17.

Several members of Girls Inc. attend Donna Mason's Introduction to Oil Painting class on Tuesday afternoons. Girls Inc. Program Director Melissa Butsch learned about the program and asked some of her girls if they'd be interested in learning to paint.

She thought the class would be a free opportunity for the children to broaden their horizons.

Ten-year-old Brittney Malott recently worked on a portrait of her mother - in colored markers - on the wall of a small room. In an earlier class, she had done a "thumbnail" painting - a tiny sketch of a barn, cows, some water and bushes. Her picture reminds her of her late grandfather, who lived in the country.

Shawna Johnson, 10, said she likes drawing a lot. She also was executing a self-portrait on a wall - something she had previously done only when she was little.

Ten-year-old Jasmine Ebersole wasn't totally satisfied with her self-portrait.

"My face looks like a yam," she laughed, but she kept working. She wants to be an artist when she grows up.

The school has received support from local businesses and welcomes more community involvement and help.

"We're pushing other people to do good things," Howard said.

Arthur Page, aka "Art the Poet," also is part of the downtown gallery and school.

"It takes a village to raise a child," he said, reciting the African proverb to underline the community nature of the project.

For more information about the school, call 301-791-6191.

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