It’s become almost cliché to talk about the wealth of historic and cultural resources available on the Eastern Shore. Yet, no other words are appropriate when you bring up institutions such as the Academy Art Museum, which provides residents and visitors with a robust art center not usually found in small towns. Much has been said about the nationally recognized exhibits that can be viewed by walking through their doors. But the mission of the Museum also acknowledges that another way to appreciate art is by learning to make it yourself.
Sarah Jesse, who took over as Director of the Museum last June, brings 17 years of experience, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that she has continued to promote thoughtful, engaging, and entertaining classes. It also helps that the building’s physical configuration supports the blending of art and education—with galleries on the lower level and the art-making studios on the second floor. “It’s exactly this split, which reflects our mission of being a museum that shows art and a museum where you can make art,” says Jesse.
Art classes are certainly not exceptional to what other museums provide. Still, as Jesse told us, the level and robust schedule at which the Academy Art offers them is unique, particularly if you consider that 97 classes are being offered per year. The courses take into consideration both the beginner/amateur with one-day workshops and multi-week sessions for those who want to improve skills they may already have. There is something for everyone, no matter your level of experience. Of course, this couldn’t be possible without their impressive roster of instructors. “A lot of our teaching artists have their works in museums and galleries. So it is an opportunity to learn from someone who has really mastered their craft and can impart their knowledge on to the students.”
The selection of classes is a collaboration between Jesse and Janet Hendricks, Director of Adult Education, Programs, & Design, and Katie Cassidy, consultant for adult classes and workshops, who help set the schedule. Thought is given to a number of criteria regarding what they think will be popular in a particular season. “Both Janet and Katie have been at the Museum for a long time,” says Jesse, “and know the community and the audience well. This helps us shape the lineup for the year. They will also solicit instructors to teach and review any requests that come in from artists who want to teach.”
Having your finger on the pulse of the community helps to ensure that classes are well attended. When asked what courses are most popular, Jesse responds, “They’re popular in different ways. For example, Paul Aspell’s clay classes are often fully booked by students who have worked with him over the years. But all of our instructors seem to have a following, where their students will keep returning for additional lessons. If you ask five different students, what is the most popular class, you might get five different answers, and they’re all correct.”
So what has this talented team come up with for this year? Go to the Museum’s website, and you’ll find a treasure of options. For instance, one being taught by locally renowned artist Sheryl Southwick is suitable and fun for all levels. It’s called ‘Have a Heart Collage Workshop’ and will take place on February 8–just in time for Valentine’s Day. For something totally different, there is a three-day workshop, ‘The Painterly Print,’ led by Rosemary Cooley, on the art of printmaking, which starts on February 11. How about capturing your four-legged friend on canvas? Check out ‘Painting Animal Portraits’ with Barrie Barnett on March 5 and 6th or ‘Weekend Workshop: Pets in Charcoal’ on April 23 and 24th, taught by Meg Walsh.
Since art takes many forms, the Museum also offers classes in photography, such as the six-week course titled ‘Photography: Art of Seeing Creatively,’ with Sahm Doherty-Sefton, starting on March 3. You’ll also find programs in the performing arts, including voice, piano, and guitar lessons.
If your preference is more towards the listening rather than the hands-on approach to art, then the Museum has you covered as well, with their robust assortment of ongoing lectures. Catch the popular one-day art appreciation programs Art at Noon (you bring lunch, they provide the art) or the Movie & Music Lectures (including a very provocative one titled: ‘A Night at the Opera – CENSORED’).
Then there are the Kittredge-Wilson Speaker Series, named in honor of Frank Kittredge and Paul Wilson, former board chairs of the Museum. The focus of the series is to feature high-profile luminaries in the art world. The Museum is kicking off this year’s lineup with three powerhouses.
The first will be photographer and filmmaker Michael O. Snyder, who will be featured on March 10. He’ll be discussing his ‘Coming Coast series,’ which documents the effects of climate change around the Chesapeake Bay.
On April 21, award-winning New York-based artist Fay Ku will talk about her surreal poetic prints and her process in creating them. In fact, the Museum just acquired one of her works for their collection.
The third, on June 9, will be Kaywin Feldman, from the National Gallery of Art. She is considered one of the most important museum directors in the country, and she’ll talk about what it means to run the National Museum, what a national collection of art looks like today, and how things are changing.
“The big news,” says Jesse, “which I’m very excited about, is that this year’s lecture series is free, thanks to Paul Wilson. In the past, we’ve charged $20-25 per lecture.”
With all this beauty and artistic expression surrounding her at the Museum, we wondered if Jesse herself was an artist. “No, I’ve always been an appreciator,” she said. But for my degrees in art history, I was required to take studio classes, and it only reaffirmed that I am an appreciator and not a maker myself because my artwork was terrible. But I do have an extra appreciation for it.”
So whether you’re an artist, a wanna-be, or even just an appreciator, there’s plenty to do at the building on the corner of South Street and Harrison Street. Stop by.
Classes and events have associated costs; check the website for further information. Reservations are required. Until further notice, all visitors must wear a mask and socially distance.
Val Cavalheri is a recent transplant to the Eastern Shore, having lived in Northern Virginia for the past 20 years. She’s been a writer, editor and professional photographer for various publications, including the Washington Post.