It’s a tight fit for 14 students, an instructor and two assistants, but they make it work.
Students ages elementary through middle school occupy stools clustered around two long tables covered in white paper. There is soft chatter about Pokéman from some, musings about just how much pink is too much and focused silence from others.
Flat pieces of polished stone in reds, greens, grays, blacks and taupes glisten on the table, clacking quietly as they are arranged and rearranged in wooden frames. Once a satisfying pattern is created, the stones are carefully set aside in order to preserve the pattern, while instructor Tom Hershberger pours in quick-mix, light-weight cement to set the stones in.
Once the cement dries, the stones will be grouted with bright white, wiped clean and a polished stone trivet will be triumphantly taken home, one of many projects that will be created in the next two weeks as part of the Belen Art League’s summer art program.
For the last five years, art league members have hosted two weeks of classes, filled with workshops on fiber arts, decoupage, acrylic painting, sculpture and any other creative means of making beautiful objects that can be found. BAL member CeCe Aragon says the league is able to keep the cost so low — at just $5 per student — because all of the instructors sacrifice their summer time to teach and most of the supplies are donated.
Hershberger cuts and polishes his own stones for his artwork, which includes usable pieces, such as trivets as well as polished-stone jewelry. The stones he donated to the class are his scraps; he had to save them up for two years to have enough for the 14 students.
The fees pay for any supplies not readily on hand and healthy snacks for the two weeks of nothing but art and learning and to respect each others creations and space.
“The really exciting part is seeing someone who is really shy come in and by the end of the two weeks they just bloom — like a rose bud,” Aragon said. “They are talking and so excited by the end, they get excited about the art. The purpose of these classes is we want to help them develop a passion for art, to teach them it’s not all computers and TVs.”
Christine Sanchez brings her daughter to the classes because of the lack of art in the schools.
“She was very disappointed when the schools stopped art classes. She got to take music classes, but she really missed art,” Sanchez said of her daughter. “She is very talented and we want to encourage that. I was sad to see art go from schools, but school funding can’t do everything.”
Mariano Torrez said his son has a “natural knack for drawing. You can tell he’s got that gift, that bug. We want to encourage it, it’s important.”
For some families, the summer art classes have become a tradition. Kay Reeves has brought all four of her grandchildren to the classes over the years. It started with her oldest granddaughter, who is a very gifted artist, she said.
“Once she did it, the rest followed,” Reeves said
This year, her youngest granddaughter, Chloe Reeves, 9, is taking the classes for the fifth time. ”
“It’s a great thing. It gives them something to do other than …,” Kay Reeves mimics rapid two-thumbed texting.
Chloe says she has enjoyed the classes every year.
“I like to make stuff to decorate my room,” Chloe said.
Taking something in your imagination and making it real is what 10-year-old Faith Pearson likes about the classes.
“You can think about your feelings and get them out in drawings,” Pearson said. “And I want to help my uncle with his wire sculptures but first I need to learn the basics.”
This is the third year Marissa Gallegos, 12, has taken the BAL summer classes. And she says in all things artistic, practice makes perfect.
“A lot of people do art to explore their emotions, to get out negative feelings. That’s why I keep my journals to myself — they can get kind of dark,” Gallegos said.
At 14, Kieana Montoya is a little older than most of her classmates but she is happy to be back in the classes. For the last few years, she has been focusing on music as a singer and guitar player for her worship group.
“I like abstract painting; it gets out what I feel,” Montoya said. “Art is important because our emotions can sometimes be so overwhelming. That’s what makes art so special — the emotion in it.”
Conner Sidell, 13, enjoys drawing and painting. If she has her way, she will one day make her living as an artist.
“Art is part of life; it’s necessary,” Sidell said.
With a mixed-age class, Aragon said very often the older students will help the younger ones, and the younger students really listen to the instructors because they want to do as well as the older ones.
“This is the fifth year and we’ve had a lot of learnings. They are excited and it doesn’t go away. Each year, everybody is new, everybody is unique,” Aragon said. “We do have our repeaters and we love that. Obviously, we did something they liked.”
The classes also teach students skills beyond art, she said.
“There are some kids who may usually have a hard time paying attention, we just have to bring them back into focus,” she said. “They also learn to respect for each other’s space. A shy person will learn to ask someone else infringing on their work space to move back.”
And teaching art is a bit of a balancing act, Aragon explained.
“You can’t stifle their creativity but you can’t let them go completely wild. When we’re painting, if you mix too many colors together, you get mud. Unless that’s what they were going for,” she says, contradicting herself slightly in typical artist fashion.
“It’s hard to be wrong. You just have to explain what will happen and let them learn. I always tell them, less is more.”
The affordability of the program is something else that attracts to many students, Aragon said.
“There are a lot of other great classes out there, but a lot of people can’t afford them,” she said.
And the classes fill up fast, she said. There’s already a waiting list for this year. Aragon said if parents really want to get their children a spot, they should call the gallery in May to be put on a call-back list.
“And watch for the announcements in Noticias in the News-Bulletin,” Aragon said. “Our space at the gallery is small so we can only take so many students.”
The Belen Art League can be reached at 861-0217 and is at 509 Becker Ave.
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