Monday, November 3, 2014

The Art of Community


By guest writer Carol Avery.

I took a pottery class.  I was about 11 years old.  I walked across the street from the Demarest Middle School and went down into the basement, as I was told to do by my mother.  "Just cross the street and go down into the cellar.  I have signed you up for a pottery course at the new cultural center." 

The “new cultural center" was of course the Old Church Cultural Center now known as The Art School at Old Church.  A beautiful 1800's arts and craft style Baptist church which had been rendered obsolete by the 1950’s A frame style of the new church next door.  

My parents had been early supporters.  They went to meetings and fundraisers to help.  My first memory was an Italian film event we attended in the fall.  My father was in his suit as usual, and my mother had put on perfume.  We entered the old church building at night. The street lamps made very sharp contrasts of shapes and shadows.  Upon entering I immediately realized I was the only child there as the noise level was singularly adult.  There was wine and cheese, I ate the crackers.  We were congregating in what I disturbingly recognized as the church's main hall.  Churches were mysterious places for worship, not cocktail parties. A white move screen had been placed where the alter should have been.  

A few glasses of wine later, some metal folding chairs scraping on the floor, lights dimmed and the projector sputtered to life.  The words "ROMA" in back and white appeared on the screen.  For the next hour and thirty minutes I was transported to a place I knew I would never see.  Only director Federico Fellini could construct the fantastic combination of beauty, pathos, the sublime and the grotesque in one moving image. "Well" my father said to my mother, "she will want to go there now."  I wouldn't go to Rome for many years, but I did go to art classes until I got there.

As I descended the stairs the smell of wet and dry clay was a new smell.  I had molded clay at camp, maybe even in school, but down the stairs was different. It was more serious and more cool at the same time. There were important looking tools and unfamilar equipment and beautiful ceramics the likes of which I had never seen. Shapes and colors I had not considered. Unique, one of kind pieces that gave pinch pots a newness I had not understood before. The adults were different too. Not the usual art teachers one finds at camp or school.  The new cultural center's teachers had a secret excitement and whirling liveliness with their long colorful skirts, big smiles and free flowing hair.  I of course was a bit concerned, in my saddle shoes and corduroy jumper.  

I went every week to my class in the basement of the old church and I worked the clay.  After many hours of hard work I could throw and center a ball of clay on the potter’s wheel.  Spinning the clay into a beautiful pot- it was mysterious and transformative.

Last year my daughter attended her first class at Old Church.  I am sure her impressions are much different than mine.  She is a few years older and she has the beginnings of artistic ability.  Eloise pointed out that her mother had also signed her up for a class.  “A Teen Art Class- you will love it, Saturday mornings for a couple hours.”  

Eloise reminded me that she had been to the Old Church Cultural Center before taking a art class as well.  “It was your birthday party and Margo came.” When we moved back to Demarest, I co-hosted a Farm-to-Table party there in the spring.  It was about 4 years ago.  She would have been about the same age as my first memory.  “It was light outside.  Not in the main hall of the church but the side studio where I have my art class” she continued. 

There were other children, and her brother.  Some wine, some cheese and raw milk was served along with pastured meats and homegrown vegetables and fermented foods.  It was a wonderful meal.  Artwork was everywhere and many who came were artists, my friends.  It felt very good.  Some came with instruments and someone sang. The opposite of Felliniesque.  I could turn out to be a disappointing mother. 

I enrolled my daughter in the Teen Art Experience class on Saturday mornings.  "I was a little nervous, but I was soon busy with the class activity and my fellow students.  I learned a lot of different techniques and my teacher, John taught us about so many different artists-like Edvard Munch.  I really enjoyed painting on snow or the time we painted without using our hands."  Eloise is now in her second session at Old Church and it seems she will be the third generation in our family, to enjoy all that the school has to offer.   

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