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   November 2010
Published by Artists of Utah
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Alisha Tolman in front ofthe St. George Art Academy
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Gallery Spotlight: St. George
Hometown Contemporary
The St. George Art Academy Broadens the Spectrum in Dixie

Just over a year ago, the St. George Art Academy was a random list of wishes in the brains of two St. George natives, Alisha Tolman |0| and Aimee Bonham. Both of these talented women hold Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees--Tolman, in drawing from Utah State University, and Bonham, from BYU, in painting and drawing -- and after college and travel abroad --Bonham to Chicago and Tolman to Taiwan -- both settled in their hometown. They met when both were featured artists in Kayenta a few years ago. Bonham invited Tolman to a critique group she was forming in Ivins. Discussions during those gatherings led them to share their ideas and formulate a plan. It struck each of them that there were artistic needs in their community that were not being met. Although St. George provides large support for the arts, they noticed it is limited to art forms and groups operating on the traditional side of the spectrum. They also noticed a lack of nurturing for artistic children. Their search for solutions to these problems is what created the St. George Art Academy.

Tolman threw herself into community affairs by proposing, organizing, advertising, and producing the first “Main Street Gallery Walk” in St. George. She rallied the Ancestor Square galleries, the St. George Art Museum, and other Main Street businesses, convincing them to stay open until after 9pm on a Friday night last October. With doors wide open, plenty of hors d’oeuvres, live music, and working artists in almost every venue, the streets came alive with folks who had previously spent their Friday nights anywhere else but downtown St. George. Subsequent “Walks” included punch cards marked at each venue. Completed cards were placed into a bowl at the last venue, and an original painting was given to the winner at the end of the evening.

It was after the first “Walk” that Tolman and Bonham began looking for a building to house their other ideas. Main Street seemed like a great central place and after looking at available properties, they settled on the business next door to the Bear Paw (a popular breakfast and lunch spot). Their new home had been an internet café, was carpeted, with low ceilings and “someone possibly living in it,” says Bonham. Initially “it didn’t look like much,” she says, but Tolman convinced her of the possibilities. “We did a lot of the work ourselves” Bonham says. “Alisha did the tile work and I did the base boards. We used our own money.” Friends chipped in with painting. Today it is a warm space with plenty of room for classes that teach “serious art versus crafts” for children, but also plenty of bright wall space for “installation” art, one-man emerging artist shows, “Presentation” art, and a small studio in the rear where Alisha is working on an upcoming show of her own work.

Since opening their doors, the St. George Art Academy has presented an installation by Corey Strange |1| and an exhibition by California pop artist Daniel Arsenault’s Pop Art. In October Fiona Phillips’ “Glamorous Work” decked the walls, |2-3| and the academy will continue to host additional one-man shows through the fall and winter class schedules so that the young students learn respect for art as they practice the techniques on display around them. Teachers besides Tolman and Bonham include Kody Keller, Karl-Erik Bennion, Connie S. Thorkelson, and Kim Burnett. Although some of these teachers were recruited by Tolman and Bonham, others were drawn to the Academy by its promise of change.

Both Tolman and Bonham enjoy teaching the children’s classes, which include drawing, printmaking, oil painting, art history, and contemporary art forms. Bonham enjoys providing her youngest daughter with the opportunity to participate at the Academy, something she did not have as a child. Tolman says they have some very gifted children in these classes. “Some kids use drawing as a language of metaphor. This is what they like to do.” After a thoughtful pause she says, “I see myself in some of the children.”

A particularly important part of the Academy’s art program is the art show that follows each semester and features the student art. Families are invited to a dressy evening where the artists experience their work as it is seen by others, what Tolman feels is an important part of the artist experience.

Like most new institutions time and money issues plague the Academy. Bonham says they are doing the work of about 15 people, including bringing in new exhibitions, hanging art, teaching, and marketing the programs. They both mention the lack of bodies “to keep the doors open.” The Academy is not yet registered as a non-profit, but it does have a fiscal sponsor--Fractured Atlas, a national non-profit artist service organization that provides support services for the independent arts community. All donations made to Fractured Atlas are channeled back to the St. George Art Academy. In addition to donations the Academy funds its programs with class tuition. Teachers other than Tolman and Bonham are paid based on enrollment numbers. Tolman and Bonham continue to put their income back into the Academy to help it evolve. “St. George has needed something like this for a long time. It might evolve a little bit as we refine the programs. Now that something like this is here, I don’t see it going away very soon. St. George is on the brink of an artistic awakening.”

Tolman and Bonham want to be sure their programming is available to all interested children so they are looking for methods to provide scholarships for children with limited means. They are organizing a street painting festival for April of 2011 in Kayenta, hoping sponsors will purchase sections of the street being painted by the artists, thereby funding the scholarships.

As if they were not busy enough already Tolman and Bonham continue to pursue their own individual careers. Both have work in the A Panel Of Women Present: Music For Your Eyes exhibit which opened recently at SUU's Sears Gallery, which also features Cathie McCormick, Sunny Belliston Taylor, and LuAnn Williams. The Academy's next exhibit, opening November 5th with a reception during the November Gallery Walk the following Friday, features work by Daniel Pettigrew.

Hints 'n' Tips
Plein Air Situations
Dos and don'ts for beginners, and a painting-day travelogue

This month I would like to talk about painting outdoors and two different types of situations for plein air artists to try. First of all, painting with a group of friends: it’s a good thing to do, the camaraderie alone is usually worth the trip out into the field. Then there is the added benefit of getting a different perspective on painting from other accomplished artists. I don’t care how seasoned you are as an artist, you can always benefit by seeing how someone else approaches painting, because it’s always different from what you are doing and helps to shake things up a bit. These little tidbits that you pick up along the way go into the ever evolving artist that you are. Groups like this are good to join if you can get an invite. Even if you are not friends with artists in the group when you start out, you soon will be, because it’s just the nature of things when you have a lot in common with others. One word of caution for beginners, though: it’s one thing to go along with a group of artists and pick up ideas, but an entirely different thing to go along expecting a lesson. Let’s just say that going painting with another experienced artist, or group of artists, is not the venue for you to set up behind them so you can copy what they are doing. It can be annoying and you might not get invited back. You have to remember that most artists are willing to share ideas in a setting like that, but it is not a free workshop either. Your main purpose is to paint from nature and work from life and that’s what you should be doing. Afterwards if you want to look at others' work and ask questions or make comments on what they are doing, no problem, it’s all part of the group experience in painting.

One group that I belong to and paint with on occasion is the “Plein Air Painters of Utah.” |0| This particular group is an organized body of painters who occasionally show their work together at different art venues. The group gets together regularly once a month. The nice thing is they are open to others outside the group coming along and being part of the experience. Membership is by application and not easy to get in, but there is always the open invitation to paint with them. Another group I paint with is from the Ogden and Cache Valley areas, which is a lot more loosely associated. We get together, mostly in the warmer weather, on a weekly basis and it’s a great bunch of painters to be with. We always stop for lunch and good conversation before heading out for the afternoon painting.

Plein air Painters of Utah
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It’s nice just to get off by yourself and get lost in the scenery and atmosphere of the chosen site. Most of my excursions out into the open are in natural settings, but recently I made a trip to downtown Salt Lake City to see what it had to offer along the streets and byways. This was a day I didn’t have commitments until that evening, so I took TRAX downtown and painted on the street. One thing about taking public transportation is that it is impossible to retreat to your car and forces you to experience the sights and people along the way. My day was filled with a lot of walking, but I stopped and painted wherever the muse struck. My first stop was the Galivan Center, where I painted a small study of the street with all of its bustle and variety. One UDOT worker made me chuckle when he tried to pose on the back of his truck before I even started to paint. By the time I was ready he was gone down the road. Then I was on to the Beehive House |7| on South Temple where I met Bob, a homeless guy who was very entertaining company while I painted. I was even offered a dollar bill by a young boy whose Mom must have thought I was the local street entertainer. What a hoot! After helping Bob secure some lunch, I moved down through Main Street |8| catching all the sights and taking a few pictures along the way for future reference. Eventually I was able to make a quick stop at a local sandwich shop before making my way over to the City County Building on 5th and State.|9| There I was able to capture one more small study before having to catch the TRAX back home for my evening appointment. What a day it was! Lots of people stopping by to talk ranging from business people to homeless men and women who were all interested to see what I was up to. All in all I came away with 3 street studies, lots of sunshine, good food and interesting company, not to mention sore legs and feet from all that walking along with having to run to catch the TRAX as it pulled into the station. Thinking back, it was my kind of painting day!
House in Farmington in Springtime by LeConte Stewart, from the collection of Howard and Elizabeth Burkholz
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