“You have to understand, the magic of this house, before you understand the school,” she said.
Yesterday I visited a woman who lifted the roof off of her house to build a 3rd story filled with windows and light to serve as a painting school. You arrive at her Somerville home, walk down a stone garden path with ivy and flowers crawling up the walls, and climb up a wooden winding staircase…where you duck your head to enter a room unlike any other. Small, cozy and warm, the walls are covered with paintings, the floor and tables with paint, brushes, and sketches. Its a small room, filling it completely are 10 students, their work and their laughter.
Their teacher, Katherine, wears cowboy boots and a shirt covered in paint. She dances, she sings along with the music and uses words like “smushing” to describe how to paint clouds or “fluffing” to describe using a fan brush to paint whiskers on a tiger. She provides all the paints, brushes and canvases for her students, asking them only for a small fee twice a year. Her students range from 4 years old to 86, and their professions vary from neurosurgeon, astrophysicist, post man, nurse, and a congressman’s assistant.
She said that one day she was with her son in church when “a booming voice told me, go down the street and buy an old laundromat.” So, she bought it from a man who let her set her own lease, her own rent and just happened to be the head of a bank who could give her a loan she wouldn’t otherwise qualify for. The painting school was born. Although 6 years later she moved the school to its current location, she moved it in a spectacular way, lifting the roof off of her house to make room for her students in her home and her daily life.
The school and its creator are now celebrating its 30th Anniversary, full of paintings, photos and memories of students who grew up in that studio and some of them, when they got married and had their own kids, brought their children to paint too. There was a father painting a few seats down from his 6 year old daughter. A woman who was 86 and still climbs the stairs to paint with her friends. A young girl, 15 who started painting there when she was 4 because her father painted there too, and brought her along to share what he loved. One student found out about the school from another when he was drawing her blood in a doctor’s office and he asked her “What do you do for fun?” The next day, he signed up.
The students travel from far and near, New Hampshire to South Boston, all to spend a few hours together painting, in a place where they seem to forget about the outside world… maybe because they have found a new, secret and wonderful haven from it all.