Lunch bunch offers art for public consumption

Artists: A class for seniors has grown into a regular noontime meeting for a dozen Howard County women.

June 30, 2000|By Lisa Respers | By Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

For several years, a congenial bunch of older women has toiled in relative obscurity, meeting weekly to paint under the moniker of The Lunch Bunch Canvas Crew.

Its members are unknowns no more. They are having their public debut at the Howard County Board of Education, where they will have a display through Aug. 7.

It might not have been a huge New York opening, but it meant a great deal to the women who have faithfully gathered every Wednesday for food, fun and fellowship.

"We have hung our things up in church before, but never something as big as the Board of Education building," said Canvas Crew member Jane Doyle, 73. "This is the first time we have ever had anything this elaborate."

The exhibit features dozens of paintings, from vibrant local landscapes awash in seasonal hues to stately portraits of Native Americans and impressionistic snapshots of everyday life.

The "girls," as they sometimes call themselves, are a lively bunch. No one is spared their humor as jokes fly furiously and peals of laughter mix with the clink of brushes being rinsed in mason jars filled with cloudy water.

"Why do we come?" 70-year-old Inge Hyder asked as she used water color pencils to draw the cherries she brought for lunch. "To eat, of course."

What began as a senior satellite program for the Howard County Office on Aging has evolved into a sisterhood of sorts. The dozen members who meet at Bethany United Methodist Church on Wednesdays share more than their creativity; they share their lives.

"I enjoy every bit of this," said 89-year-old Flavia Kaufman, looking around the room at the group. "I enjoy my teacher, and these girls and I have a great time."

Mary McClaren, the group's instructor, said the Canvas Crew began 20 years ago as a way to keep senior citizens active and get them out and about.

"I had been teaching the younger women from the University of Maryland Extension Service," McClaren said. "I went to the county and requested a class for older people."

At first, McClaren said, the group attracted quite a few older married couples. Over the years, members died or moved away, and today the bunch is made up of about a dozen women. "I used to be the youngest in the group, and now I am one of the oldest," 78-year-old McClaren said, laughing. "We try and meet year-round."

On a recent a muggy Wednesday morning "the girls" have been temporarily displaced from their usual room at the church and are instead crammed into the third-grade Sunday school room at the church's older building.

An air conditioner hums as they squeeze tubes of color onto pallets and chat about their lives: whose grandchild is coming to visit, who's thinking of buying a new car, who has cherries on sale for 97 cents a pound.

They speak with pride about each another's works and can quickly rattle off who likes to paint what, from horses to sailboats. Many of them had never painted before they joined the Canvas Crew. "I had never had any training at all, and Mary had taught my son when he was 13," said Claire Miller, 70. "I dabbled in drawing, and I always said I wanted to take up painting. This gives me a chance to get out and talk to people."

Wilma Layman, 70, said she has learned a great deal about art since she joined the group. She laughs uproariously when McClaren calls her "my wild one" because she uses a pallet knife in her creations.

"I don't have a great eye for detail, so the impressionistic style is better for me," Layman said as she put the finishing touches on a portrait of an aerobics class she copied from a newspaper photo. "I'll take a picture and then modify it and make it my own."

The group has Layman to thank for its showing. Her daughter is a human resource specialist for the Howard school system and suggested the exhibit. "They had just had an exhibit by a senior class, and she thought `Hmm, you're a senior. Do you think your group could get some things together for the show?'" Layman said. "I came back and asked them, and they were all for it."

The artists are dealing with the sudden flash of fame.

"It's been real exciting," said Anne Lowery, 74. "I had three people offer to buy some of my paintings, and I didn't at all know how to handle that. I've only ever given them away to my family."

Just before the group broke for lunch, Kaufman knitted her brow as McClaren leaned over and the pair compared a picture of a kitten from a children's book and Kaufman's oil painting. Kaufman, a member of the Canvas Crew since 1990, said she received her instruction from McClaren but that her inspiration came from another source.

"I waited all these years for a great-grandchild, and I finally got one in February," said Kaufman. "I'm painting this for her."

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