Teaching fine arts of living

A poetry chair is the head of a college department, right?

Not necessarily. In Lisa Spreacker's world, it's an actual chair you sit on.

It's not surprising for the Mukilteo artist. Words are powerful in her artwork.

On her work table, Spreacker placed a school chair she bought for $3 — "heavy as can be," she said.

"This is the kind of little chair that a little kid who's learning to walk can stand up and hold onto it."

Soon, it will be a poetry chair. With paint and decoupaged images, it will be an artwork.

"You always want to think about the words," she said.

In February, Spreacker will teach a class called "Poetry Chair," using words and pictures and other objects. Students will use paint, pictures and texts, sealed by acrylic gloss, to create an art chair.

Next month, she'll teach "Zen Medicine Cabinet," making a personalized artwork with similar symbolic meaning.

Edmonds' and Everett's parks departments have added to their list of fine-arts instructors for 2004. Many of them will teach less-familiar art skills such as assemblage, papier-mâché and botanical illustration.

In Everett, four artists have been added to the roster of instructors: calligrapher Katherine Malmsten; glass artist Bob Mitchell, the 2000 Snohomish County Artist of the Year; Stan Price, the owner of Covenant Art Glass; and Spreacker, the 1997 Snohomish County Artist of the Year.

Artists make good educators, said Susan Di Pietro, Everett's cultural-arts supervisor.

"As far as variety, we're reaching out more," she said.

"With this winter quarter, we've got basic skills, like oil painting, all the way to the work that Lisa produces. We want to give the community a taste of the different art mediums out here."

After 17 years with the city of Edmonds, including seven years as a programmer, Renee McRae knows never to be surprised by what people teach "and what people take," she said.

"You're just lucky that they come to you and offer to teach classes," said McRae, who programs classes for the Edmonds Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department.

Most classes are project-based. Ariele Huff's students will combine words and pictures in a class called "Portrait Books." "The New Papier-Mâché," a class with Cary Pugh, will build furniture and functional objects out of paper and glue.

The idea of buying experience is "making memories," McRae said. "Those experiences, those memories are with them forever."

When people finish a class, "they want a product," she said.

"After 9-11, people were spending their money on things they could spend their lives doing, more than just a craft class, something that gave them a skill they could apply, like dancing or painting."

"Botanical Illustration" teaches not only art but observation, instructor Jennifer Grimm Mello-e-Souza said.

The class is relaxing, she said, helping participants take the time to observe nature in a scientific way.

"There's an element of truthfulness in this kind of illustration," she said.

"You're not inventing. You spend it looking at a leaf, or a flower, and you have a new perspective toward nature."

The artist is also president of the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators and will have an art show next month at the Edmonds Public Library.

Have a skill to teach? McRae advises would-be instructors to "get a following."

"You might want to teach in Edmonds and Everett, or Edmonds and Shoreline," she said. "People are really mobile; they'll take calligraphy classes here and come from Poulsbo or Bainbridge Island."

If an artist wanted to teach, "I like to have an idea of what that class looks like to them," McRae said.

"I like them to know what it looks like, what's the outline. How long is that class — five weeks, two hours? What kind of age are they teaching?"

Artists name their course, and "we set a fee together," McRae said. Instructors initially get 60 percent of the class fee and 70 percent by the third quarter. The center handles registration, advertising and room bookings.

McRae is known to remind staff members of the parks-and-recreation slogan: "The possibilities are endless."

Kris Gillespie, an assistant with the Edmonds Arts Commission, has seen it.

"When people take classes, ... they may be exploring or developing new skills, furthering a dream or whatever, but regardless of what they learn or what they accomplish in the class, they have now become advocates for the arts in our communities," Gillespie said.

"They have seen what the arts can do for our lives."

Artist Spreacker said: "I think just being able to take the time to make something is a healthy thing. Teaching is a way of life with artists. You know unless you give it, you don't get it back."

Diane Wright: 425-745-7815 or dwright@seattletimes.com