A secret garden with a tree house is not the usual place to hold an art class. But for Susan Cohen Harris' Art Studio in Maplewood, it is.
“Now remember we talked about Frida Kahlo last week...” Cohen Harris asks her charges, a mix of second and third graders as she shepherds them into the garden. They beg to go up into the tree house.
Cohen Harris' studio is a two story carriage house. The bottom is filled with everything from gardening tools to various boxes of colorful things that could inspire imagination. The second story is a light and airy space with a big table. In it's center are buckets of colored pencils.
But the weather was too nice to spend any time up there. Everyone was outside. They were in the tree house that has a blooming dogwood tree for a roof, on the patio and under the 85-yearold rhododendron that bore more resemblance to a fairy house than anything else.
Cohen Harris gave everyone just a few rules.
“There are no hard and fast rules here.” She turns to her students, “Have fun. Stay loose. Make the color your own.” She pauses, “I like to mix it up...fundamentals and imagination. Each student has their own style and I try to work with and nurture it." The students asked some questions, painted a bit and asked more questions. This was followed by answers. “Well, use your favorite color” and “Don't paint the tree house on purpose.”
Cohen Harris also tries to expand on the school district’s curriculum. Having volunteered for the Tuscan art fair for 14 years, she felt that there wasn't enough time spent on art. But she also brings her past experience as an art director for a magazine into her classes. “Some places are more focused on process. I focus on product. I get a product out of them. Something they can be proud of.”
The Art Studio has been in existence in Maplewood for six years. Cohen Harris likes to challenge her students in a good way and also has them embrace the "happy accidents" that sometimes happen in art. Today, one of the wet paintings fell into the dirt. Cohen Harris wiped the dirt off and smeared the paint. Both Cohen Harris and the student got excited. The colors mixed and looked beautiful. The student went back to her work and Cohen Harris beamed.
“I'm just a big kid. I get inspired by their art.”
Art Studio is for children five years old and up, Monday through Friday with sessions in the spring, fall and winter and offers an art summer camp. For more information, please click here.