Friday, January 29, 2016

Upcoming Watercolor Workshop in Northern Colorado -- April 2nd & 3rd

I'm excited to be offering a Two-Day Watercolor Workshop in Berthoud, Colorado -- April 2nd & 3rd. It will be held at the Wildfire Community Arts Center, from 9:30 am to 4 pm daily.

There are still a few openings for this class -- all skill levels welcome -- and there is still time to get the discounted price of $160 for the two days.  (If you register and pay before March 1st.)  This price includes a light lunch and beverages.

If you're interested in this two-day workshop and want to sign up, or if you have any questions about it, you can comment below, or you can send me an e-mail -- or

Upcoming One-Day Workshop in Durango - February 17th

Back by popular demand!

Come join me for "A Day of Art Nouveau", on Wednesday, February 17th -- at my home/studio here in Durango.

Let me know if you want to sign up for the class -- I still about 5 openings left.  Contact me at, or at

The cost is $90 for the one-day workshop, which includes a light lunch and beverages.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

2016 Workshop Schedule


February 17th -- COLORADO
One-Day Workshop at my home/studio in Durango, CO
"A Day of Art Nouveau" -- back by popular demand

April 2nd & 3rd -- COLORADO 
2-Day Workshop at the Wildfire Community Art Center, in Berthoud, Colorado
"Negative Painting of Trees & Leaves" and "Floral Painting on Aquabord"

May 25th -- COLORADO
One-Day Workshop at my home/studio in Durango, CO
"From the Ground Up" -- Fantasy Landscapes

July 14, 15, 16, & 17 -- COLORADO
Women's Creativity Retreat in Estes Park, Colorado
Four days at a beautiful private resort, with Cheri Thurston and Pat Howard as facilitators and instructors.

August 18th & 19th -- OHIO
2-Day Workshop at the Wolf Creek Winery in Norton, OH

September 16, 17, 18, & 19 -- COLORADO
Annual 4-Day Workshop at my home/studio in Durango, CO


More details to come for each of these workshops -- but, please leave a comment below, if you are interested in any of these, and/or have a question about them.  Or, contact me at

Friday, January 8, 2016

WOMEN ARTISTS: Alma Woodsey Thomas

A prominent abstract painter of the 1960's and 70's, Alma Thomas was the first African American woman to have a solo art exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in NYC, in 1971.  She is the featured artist for January, 2016, in my Woman Artist Series.  

Alma Thomas was a successful Washington Expressionist painter and art educator, despite the barriers presented by her race and gender.  She did not, however, turn to racial or feminist issues in her art -- believing rather that the creative spirit is independent of race or gender.  She viewed nature as a colorful, abstract mosaic.


Here are 10 things to know about Alma Woodsey Thomas, along with some of her paintings, and images of Thomas herself:

1.  Alma Thomas was born in Columbus, Georgia, in 1891, and moved with her family in 1907, to a house in Washington, DC, where she would reside for the remaining seven decades of her life.  

Alma was the eldest of four daughters of John Harris Thomas, a successful businessman, and Amelia Cantey Thomas, a dress designer.  Alma showed artistic tendencies as a child, when she used local clay to make homemade puppets and sculptures.  

Thomas' childhood was instilled with the importance of education.  Although her hometown prohibited black people in public libraries, Thomas' aunts, who were schoolteachers, often brought professors and traveling lecturers to the Thomas home, including Booker T Washington.  

With the desire for a better education for his daughters, and concern over the 1906 race riots in nearby Atlanta, John Thomas moved his family to Washington, DC, in 1907.  They settled in a house that Alma would occupy for the next 71 years, and that remains in the Thomas family to this day.

Though segregated, the nation's capitol still offered more opportunities for African Americans than most cities in those years.

2.  In 1924, Thomas earned her BS in Fine Arts from Howard University -- the first graduate of the fine art program at the university.

Shortly after her family relocated to Washington, DC, in 1907, Thomas attended Armstrong Technical High School, where she took her first art classes.  She also excelled in math and science, as well as demonstrating a strong talent in architectural drawing.  Although she considered becoming an architect, art captured her imagination more thoroughly.  By the time she graduated, she had taken every art class the school offered.

Upon graduating, Thomas attended the Miner Teachers Normal School, specializing in early childhood education.  She earned her teacher's certificate in 1913.

After six years of teaching, Thomas entered Howard University in 1921 as a home economics student.  During her first year at Howard, Thomas met Professor James Herring, the founder of the school's Fine Art Department.  Herring persuaded Thomas to abandon the idea of costume design and to enroll as the first student in his new curriculum.  Herring would be a lifelong friend and mentor to Thomas.  Thomas was the first graduate of Herring's Art Department (and it's only graduate of 1924).

In 1934, she earned her Masters in Art Education from Columbia University.

3.  Alma Thomas was an art teacher for 35 years, before publicly exhibiting her own work, at the age of 68.

Thomas taught kindergarten and arts & crafts at the Thomas Garrett Settlement House for six years in Wilmington, Delaware, before returning to Washington in 1921 to enroll at Howard University.  While at the Settlement House, she experienced the joy of teaching and encouraging creativity in young people.  She also staged carnivals, circuses, and puppet shows.  

After graduation from Howard with a Bachelor's degree in Fine Arts, she became an art teacher at Shaw Junior High School in Washington -- remaining there until her retirement in 1960.  "I devoted my life to the children, and I think they loved me -- at least those did who cared about art", she said.  While at Shaw JHS, she started a community arts program that encouraged student appreciation of fine art.  The program also supported marionette performances.  

In 1930, Thomas began spending her summers in NYC, working toward a masters degree in Art Education at Columbia University.  She focused her studies on marionette plays.  She also studied with Tony Sarg, the world-renowned marionette maker and puppeteer.

4.  When Thomas retired from teaching, she devoted herself to painting full-time, and was given her first one-person show at the Dupont Theater, an art cinema in Washington, DC.  She was 68 years old when she first publicly exhibited her own work.

Alma Woodsey Thomas' first retrospective exhibit was in 1966 at the Gallery of Art at Howard University, at the age of 75 -- where she debuted her abstract work.  

In 1972, she was the first African American woman to be given a solo show at the Whitney Museum of American Art, in New York.

Thomas, at her opening in the Whitney Museum, 1972

5.  For more than twenty-five years, Alma Thomas created representational images.  She first painted rudimentary still life paintings that served as a springboard for later, more adventurous works. 

"What I would rather do is to paint something beautiful."  

She spent many hours visiting museums, where she studied Western classics, as well as examples of Byzantine and Asian art.  She derived inspiration from the styles of Cezanne and Matisse and from her long study of color theory.

She had a special affinity for watercolor, and her professional debut consisted of works in that medium.  Upon classes at Howard, and training under James Herring and Lois Jones, her work became more abstract.

6.  Thomas studied painting at American University under Jacob Kainen. from 1950 to 1960 -- at night and on weekends.  

It was there that she took courses in creative painting and color theory.  She began to incorporate strong design, large scale format, and pure colors into her abstractions.  

Studying under one of the leading Expressionist painters, Jacob Kainen -- who thought of her as an artist, not a student -- introduced her to member of the Washington Color Field group.  Kainen encouraged Thomas to focus on color in her paintings.

She completed her studies at American University in 1960 -- the same year she retired from teaching.

7.  In 1943, Alma Woodsey Thomas helped found the Barnett-Aden Gallery in Washington, DC.    James Herring and Alonzo Aden, an art curator, asked Thomas to help them establish the Gallery, so she joined the venture as vice president.

The Barnett-Aden Gallery customarily featured talented artists, regardless of race or sex.  It was the first private gallery in Washington to exhibit modern American art, as well as the works of relatively unknown black artists.  

It was there that she became involved with the "Little Paris" group of artists in 1946.  Primarily black public school teachers and civil employees, the "Little Paris" group sketched, painted, and encouraged each other.

8.  Thomas worked out of the kitchen in her house -- sometimes even working on her lap.  In the late 1950's, she developed the confidence and knowledge to pursue the highly-colored abstract style for which she is known.  

During the 1960's, Thomas emerged as an exuberant colorist, abstracting shapes and patterns from the trees and flowers around her.  Her new palette and technique -- lighter and looser than in her earlier representational works and dark abstractions -- reflected her long study of color theory and the watercolor medium.  She was in her 70's when she developed her signature style -- the large abstract paintings filled with dense, irregular mosaic patterns of bright colors.

In Washington, DC, where she lived and worked, Thomas became identified with the Color Field painters active in the area since the 50's -- including Morris Louis and Gene Davis.  Her close relationships with these Washington Color School Painters, whose works emphasized abstract color shapes, assured her acceptance in that circle.  Like them, she explored the power of color and form.  

Thomas studied and assimilated the styles of artists she admired, merging them with her own profoundly independent vision.  The Color Field painters used staining techniques and masking tape in order to give their work a hard edge.  Thomas, however, spoke proudly of her pencil-drawn rectangles and wedges which she then colored individually.  

Another influence on her art at the time was a book by Bauhaus artist, Johannes Itten, The Art of Color.  

Starry Night

9.  Alma Thomas retired from teaching in 1960, at the age of 70, to focus on what she called her "serious painting".  This is when she evolved her signature style and was finally recognized as a professional artist.

For her retrospective exhibition at Howard University, she created her Earth Paintings, a series of nature-inspired abstract works, and her "Space Paintings" series.  These paintings have been compared to Byzantine mosaics and the pointillist paintings of Seurat.

The space series was inspired from the heavens and stars, and "my idea of what it's like to be an astronaut, exploring space".  Two of the paintings have titles, using the astronauts' nickname for the moon vehicle -- "Snoopy Sees a Sunrise" and "Snoopy -- Early Sun Display on Earth".

Though her chronic arthritis made working increasingly difficult, Thomas continued to paint, and exhibited her canvases through the mid-1970's.

10.  Thomas was an important role model -- for women, for African Americans, and for older artists.  In 1963, she walked in the March on Washington -- though she would be the first to tell you she was not a "black artist".  

 In 1972, at the age of 80, Thomas had what she called her "banner year".  Both the Whitney Museum of American Art (the first black woman to have a solo exhibit there), and the Corcoran Gallery of Art held solo exhibitions of her work.  

In 1977, she was invited to the White House by President Jimmy Carter, in recognition of her achievements.  She exhibited her paintings at the White House three times.

In 2009, two paintings by Alma Thomas were chosen by First Lady Michelle Obama, to be exhibited there during the Obama presidency.  

Today, Alma Thomas' work can be found in many important private and public collections -- including the Akron Art Museum in Ohio, the California African American Museum in Los Angeles, the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC, the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, in New York.

Thomas died on February 24, 1978, while undergoing open heart surgery at Howard University Hospital in Washington, DC.  She was 86, and was living in the same house that her family moved into, upon their arrival in Washington in 1906.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

WOMEN ARTISTS: Niki de Saint Phalle

One of the first women to make her mark on public spaces across the world, Niki de Saint Phalle was a French sculptor, painter, and filmmaker.  She is the featured artist for November, in my Woman Artist Series.  From sculptures in Jerusalem to fountains in Paris, to totems in a California park, the works were her way of taking possession and re-owning the male-dominated public space.


Here are 10 things to know about Niki de Saint Phalle, along with some of her artwork and images of Saint Phalle herself:

1.  Catherine Marie-Agnes Fal de Saint Phalle was born on October 29, 1930 near Paris.  Her father, Count Andre Marie Fal de Saint Phalle, was a French banker, and her mother was an American, Jeanne Jacqueline Harper.  

Before World War II broke out in Europe, the family moved from France to the United States, to seek safer ground.  Saint Phalle's French family had business ties in New York and relocated there, where her father became manager of the American branch of the Saint Phalle family's bank.  

Saint Phalle attended the prestigious Brearley School in New York City, a girls'  prep school, between 1942 and 1944, but was dismissed for painting fig leaves red on the school's statuary.  She went on to attend Oldfields School in Glencoe, Maryland, where she graduated in 1947.  It was there, she said later, that she became a feminist.  "They inculcated in us that women can and must accomplish great things."

During her teenage years, Saint Phalle was a fashion model.  At the age of 18, she appeared on the cover of Life; and later, on the covers of French Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, and Elle.  

2.  While rejecting the conservative values of her family, Saint Phalle married at 19 -- eloping with author and musician, Harry Matthews, whom she had known since the age of 12, through her father -- and moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts.  

While her husband studied music at Harvard University, Saint Phalle began to paint -- experimenting with different media and styles.  Saint Phalle's self-taught artistic pursuits, were rejected by members of the Saint Phalle clan.  They reportedly took a dim view of her artistic activities.  

The couple's first child, Laura, was born in April, 1951, when Saint Phalle was 21.  She had her second child, Philip, at 25.  The family moved to Paris in 1952.

After becoming a mother, she found herself living the same bourgeois lifestyle that she had attempted to reject.  This internal conflict, as well as reminiscences of her rape by her father when she was only 11, caused her to suffer a serious nervous breakdown.  She was treated with electroshock therapy and insulin, for what was diagnosed as schizophrenia.  As a gentler form of therapy, she was also urged to pursue her painting, which she did, on a full-time basis during her convalescence.

While in Paris on a modeling assignment, Saint Phalle was introduced to the American painter, Hugh Weiss, who became her friend and mentor.  He encouraged her to continue painting in her self-taught style.

3.  After moving to Majorca, Spain, with her family, Saint Phalle gleaned ideas everywhere.  Saint Phalle read the works of Proust and visited Madrid and Barcelona, where she became deeply affected by the fantastic structures of the architect Antoni Gaudi.  Gaudi's influence opened many previously unimagined possibilities for Saint Phalle -- especially with regard to the use of unusual materials as structural elements in sculpture and architecture.  

Saint Phalle was particularly struck by Gaudi's "Park Guell", which persuaded her to create her own garden-based artwork, that would combine both artistic and natural elements. That definitely set her course -- to one day create a sculpture park.

Saint Phalle continued to paint, particularly after she and her family moved back to Paris. Her first art exhibition was held in 1956 in Switzerland, where she displayed her naive style of oil painting.  She then took up collage work, her first reliefs -- that often featured various humble objects, such as plastic toys and knitting needles, embedded in them.  

Sometime during the early 1960's, she left her first husband.

4.  From 1960 to 1963, Saint Phalle caused a stir with her spectacular, experimental "shooting" paintings.  These famous Tirs (Shoot) pieces -- considered scandalous at the time -- drip like Pollock's, but were executed by Saint Phalle by shooting a rifle at balloons of colorful paint mounted on white canvases.  

These pieces of art were created with polythene bags of paints, sometimes in human forms, covered in white plaster.  Standing before her canvases, she would first plaster on small pots and bags of paint, and then shoot at them mercilessly with a shotgun, to open the bags of paint, which splattered color onto the relief when they burst. Saint Phalle was a picture of total concentration as she completed her works of art, often surrounded by spectators.

For Saint Phalle, shooting with a shotgun or pistol at these modeled plaster reliefs was a release of her feelings and aggressions.  "I fired at men, at society with its injustices, and at myself."  She was considered an "action artist", rebelling against set conventions.

Her "shootings" catapulted Saint Phalle into the limelight of the international art scene, and won her acceptance among the French Nouveaux Realistes group of artists.

5.  Seemingly out of nowhere, came Saint Phalle's signature works -- her Nanas -- large, playful, balloon like figures of women, with their arms outstretched, and colorfully decorated from head to toe with gaily-painted flowers, hearts, and other folk motifs.  

Saint Phalle created these Nanas, her best-known works, in the mid-1960's.  Nana is French slang for "broad" or "woman".  They are often credited as redefining the depiction of women in sculpture.  Some of these vast, curvaceous sculptured bodies towered more than 5 meters (or 15 feet) high.

She finally found a highly individual style to express her ideas about being a woman in society.  The Nana figures embody self-aware femininity and joie de vivre.  These were, in effect, an alternative art to her shooting paintings.  Saint Phalle said that she "wanted these good, bounteous, happy mothers to take over the world".

The first of these freely posed forms-- made of papier-mâché, yarn, and cloth -- were exhibited in Paris in September, 1965.  They eventually were made of polyester.

The Nanas' forms may be French, but their attitudes are American.  They seem to say -- break all the rules, be confident, be arrogant, and throw your weight around.  These rotund girls dressed in bold primary colors twirl on their toes and look like they're having a grand old time.

Her larger-than-life Nanas soon conquered the hearts of the public.  They seemed to make the world a little more cheerful and colorful.

6.  Through the wild group of artists, the New Realists (Nouveaux Realistes) in Paris, Saint Phalle met the Swiss artist Jean Tinguely in 1960, whom she lived with and later married, in 1971.  

Tinguely, a fellow artist and sculptor, helped Saint Phalle in her efforts.  They participated in many Happenings throughout Europe.  Their numerous collaborations include the beautiful and whimsical Beaubourg Fountain near Paris' Pompidou Center, on the Place Igor Stravinsky -- with sculptures by both Niki and Jean Tinguely.

Saint Phalle and Tinguely were together until his death in the 1990's.

7.  In the mid-1960's, Saint Phalle and Tinguely collaborated on another installation -- this time a huge Nana figure.  The sculpture was Hon (the Swedish word for "she").  This architectural sculpture was like a cathedral.

This 92-foot-long (28 meters), 20-foot-high hollow sculpture of a woman lying on her back was placed on the floor of Stockholm's Moderna Museet.  

Visitors entered the figure -- which contained a bar, aquarium, planetarium, music rooms, and a movie theater -- through a door between her splayed legs.  

8.  Saint Phalle worked on her biggest project, the Tarot Garden, inspired by Gaudi's Park Guell in Barcelona, until her death.  

She started the project in the early 1970's -- when she decided to create and build a sculpture garden.  

The Tarot Garden in the hills of Tuscany features a series of monumental sculptures based on the 22 symbols of the tarot cards -- gigantic figures and towers covered in mirrors, ceramics, and stones.  The artist's highly individual style would make the whole place a singular work of art.  

In 1983, the first completed figure -- the Empress, in the center of the garden -- became her home and studio for seven years while she worked there.  

Eventually, after decades of work, the Giardino die Tarocchi (the Tarot Garden) in Garavicchio, Tuscany, opened in May of 1998.

9.  Niki de Saint Phalle's role as an artist and a provocateur defined her.  She had a unique, yet often dismissed place in 20th century art.  In so many ways, she was a pioneer of avant-garde.  She once said, "I always admired people who went all out."  She did just that.

When she was 62, Saint Phalle published her memoir, Mon Secret, in which she revealed that her father had sexually abused her for several years, beginning when she was 11 years old.  After that, her strikingly varied body of work took on new meaning, with a more cohesive narrative. 

She overtly tackled American issues, such as gun control and civil rights in the 60's in her artworks.  She was one of the earliest champions of Aids awareness.  

10.  Saint Phalle was half French, half American, and bilingual.  Although she was born in France, she spent decades in New York and California -- where she lived out her final years.

Her Tarot Garden in Tuscany opened in 1998, but by then, Saint Phalle had already retreated to the milder climate of California.  Her lungs had been seriously damaged by working with polyesters.

Niki de Saint Phalle died on May 21, 2002, in San Diego, California, of pulmonary emphysema -- at the age of 71.