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When John Kerr retired to Southport after many years of teaching and school administration in Connecticut, he thought he’d try his hand at painting.
“I always had a strong feeling I could do that, if I only had the time to try.”
He signed up for Rusty Hughes oil painting class at he Franklin Square Gallery, then the watercolor class, then figure-drawing, and now spends four days a week at his easel.
His experience is typical of the many adult students who find their way to this stately, historic building behind Franklin Square Park, a cooperative gallery that has become the artistic heart of Southport and has been nurturing local artists for more than 25 years.
Each fall, the gallery honors its students with class shows, showcasing work of students, from beginners to advanced, from the oil painting, watercolor, figure drawing and pottery classes. This year’s show is from Oct. 1-Nov. 3. More than 100 exhibiting members of the Associated Artists of Southport will also have their work on display.
As an instructor at Brunswick Community College, working out of the Franklin Square Gallery upstairs studio each Monday and Wednesday, Hughes has fostered many budding artists and helped hone the skills of advanced painters. His students do individual work and rely on his advice as he strolls through their class helping them with the medium of their choice: oils, acrylics or watercolors.
Some of the advanced painters move on to Dick Staat’s watercolor class, which he runs as a workshop every Tuesday morning. Many skilled watercolorists such as Jim McIntosh, Diane Sloan and Larry Shafer participate.
“Everyone looks forward to the critique at the end of the class,” Staat said. “We tell each other how we could improve a painting, just make it a little better. We all learn from each other.”
Both the watercolor and figure-drawing classes are partially funded by grants from the Brunswick Arts Council.
The figure-drawing class hires a live model every Thursday morning. Individual artists work in their own medium, from Claire Martin’s charcoals to Jan Triplett’s oils, and their class work often forms the basis for many completed portraits or abstract figures on exhibit in member shows. Jan Boland, a pastel artist, coordinates the group.
“We’ve added a critique at the end of each session, where we tell each other one positive thing about our pictures, and one thing that needs improvement. The students really appreciate this,” she said.
Kerr is a member of all three of these classes.
“I thought I was going to do scenery, but I took up portraiture,” he said. “There are some excellent portrait painters in my classes. I get a lot of inspiration. I highly recommend it, not only for the learning, but also for the camaraderie.”
In addition to painting and drawing, the gallery promotes pottery classes in conjunction with Brunswick Community College.
Instructor Kimberly Smittle-Caroon started the little studio behind Franklin Square Gallery more than 20 years ago as an extension of the college. Since then, she has created a group of ceramic artists that extends to all four corners of the county and exhibit in many venues. Now her studio is in the old Southport firehouse on Nash Street and will soon move to the college’s Lord Street Annex.
Each year, Caroon presents all four of her classes, from beginners to advanced, with a unique challenge for the class show. This year it was “Make a place setting. You just have to be able to eat off of it at the dinner table.” Then their imaginations took off. That most original dining table is the center of their exhibit.
The public is invited to get acquainted with the student work and learn more about these classes as they visit the Franklin Square Gallery for this fall show.
The gallery is open from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, with First Friday evening receptions on Oct. 5 and Nov. 2. For more information on gallery programs, visit its website at www.franklinsquaregallery.com.