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Learning from the best

I have always been involved in “making things.” My earliest memories are of drawing and coloring, which kept me busy for hours and were inspired by my fantasies. 

Mostly I drew twins, me and the other one I begged my mother for but never got. When I was older, my parents bought a school property and we had a special room called the Craft Closet that was full of art materials. This was my refuge. I was soon experimenting with “new to me” artistic pursuits such as enamel, copper, jewelry, paints and simple woodwork. Thus I quietly sailed into the world of art, craft and experimental creativity and I have never left that stimulating place. 

Ultimately, just “doing” was not enough. I longed to learn more and work alongside others who were interested in growing artistically and widening their field.  My children had moved on in their worlds. I was single and, although working, felt I was now more a commander of my own “ship.” I began taking classes and workshops. 

My first great class was here in Claremont, upstairs in what is now Barbara Cheatley’s shop on Yale Avenue. A weekly tapestry weaving class was taught by Ingrid Petersen, then an art instructor at Claremont High School. She was an accomplished fiber artist and an excellent weaver from Denmark. The level of her own work was superb.

She had high expectations for her students and the quality of their work. I fell in love with the entire weaving process. Of all the artwork I do to this day tapestry weaving remains my favorite medium. The process is long and precise but most satisfying. The weaving alone was not enough and, when I moved to New York, I learned the art of spinning my own yarns and coloring them with natural earth dyes. The process is a passionate one involving all the senses, especially touch and sight. On one of my trips to Japan I had the pleasure of spending an entire day dying with Indigo blue dye in the traditional way. 

I then began to study with a Berkeley artist, Sas Colby. I happened to be traveling in France one summer and she was teaching a week-long course in a small French village.  She had found a most charming house, each room painted in the style of a famous artist.

For a week we ate, worked, shared and lived our art mostly exploring techniques with collage, paint and extending our explorations into the community along with evenings of music and drama.

In the following years, I took her class on the Northern California coast, which involved a great deal of the local nature and the use of poetry. Later we met for a number of years in Taos, New Mexico staying in the historical Mable Dodge Luhan house. In each of these experiences the environments cast their spell on our work. Many of the same people returned year after year providing a nice continuum to the work and to friendships. We tried new ideas and used a variety of materials. The plan was to expand creatively and to open ourselves to what was available, both in us and to us in a rich artistic atmosphere. Sas herself was always playing with new ideas and enthusiastically passing them on to her students. I always returned home excited and renewed and ready to expand in my craft. Those were good years.

For nine years I spent summers on the island of Skyros in Greece. It was here that The Skyros Center, one of the first personal development centers, was opened. They held wonderful classes in movement and dance, yoga and meditation, voice and drama, and writing and communication. There were two settings, one small center in town and the other at the larger more rustic center in the countryside.

I typically spent two weeks each year indulging myself in personal growth, working with talented people (mostly British) and being among interesting people from all over the world. It was here that I met Allegra Taylor, who guided me and so many other students in writing. She is an accomplished author and her classes were rich and informal places to write and share experiences with gentle guidance, while presenting stimulating prompts to begin each writing session.

Sometimes we gathered at the local taverna to work together but mostly we sat on rocks at the edge of the sea and, with our notebooks on our knees, wrote, shared, listened and grew. Allegra was a gentle but firm guide working in an area that is both very personal and often emotional. It was through working with her and sharing with others over many years that I was able to find a love of expressing myself through the written word.

A number of years ago my friend Amy and I went to a one-week art class in Riverside. The instructor was Ron Pokrasso, a printer from Santa Fe. Working with art on paper, like painting, drawing, printing and collaging, has always been a challenge for me, even though I began my artistic pursuits as a child with pencil and paper. I loved that first class. We learned to use inks and a press and many techniques to build a detailed and rich picture by layering and adding papers, words, color and linear design. He was first and foremost a good artist and generously shared his knowledge of the various techniques to achieve desired results. His classes were always full and, even though we were in the same class watching the same demonstrations, each of us produced independent and original work. He taught us well.

I went up to Idyllwild to take summer classes and to New Mexico to work with Ron. My only regret is that I don’t have the space or tools to continue this craft on my own. Sadly, his classes are given so far from my home.

I have been very lucky to have worked with talented people over the years. Each has been a good leader. For me, working with someone is a delicate balance between trust, letting go of the negatives that often impede my progress and listening to what is offered.  Finally, I have to trust in my own voice. But working with strong, talented teachers has given me the chance to move forward with confidence.

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