The Ottumwa Courier

May 4, 2014

Combining art and observation to make masterpieces

Courier staff writer

---- — ELDON — Have you ever stopped to take a good, close look at the flowers in springtime? That's what a good artist does, several art students learned Saturday.

At the wildflower pastel class at the American Gothic House Center, 11 budding artists strolled through the gardens and learned how to use pastel chalk to turn sketches into colorful finished projects.

Created specifically for students in kindergarten through sixth grade, the class was led by local artist Chris Abigt. She explained at the very beginning of the afternoon that she had been painting since the fourth grade, which was the exact age of many of the children in the workshop.

The weird winter in southeast Iowa has delayed the blooming of many flowers, but Abigt directed them to the ones that were — Prairie Smoke. With sketch books in hand, she had them sitting next to the flowers and examining them from top to bottom.

"Notice what's special about them," she instructed. "All flowers are different, so look at their leaves and what the flower does. Pay attention to those kind of things."

After their sketches were complete, they returned to the tables to put chalk to paper and create their masterpieces.

As much as this class was about learning a new art technique, Abigt says the hour was also about really seeing details.

"The goal is for them to learn to observe in all of their surroundings," she said. "It's not just seeing flowers, but observing so much more. That can help them in all areas of their life."

The wildflower class was just one of the American Gothic House Center's efforts to offer a wide range of activities for Eldon and the surrounding communities.

"We try to do diverse programming, and there are so many ways to reach different ages," Administrator Holly Berg said. "We thought this would be a good age to start with, and maybe in the future we can do one for adults."

While the center holds lectures during the year geared toward adults and offers an ever-changing exhibit room for visitors, Berg says the most interest is always in the children's programs. The upcoming American Gothic Days, June 13-15, will provide a variety of activities for all ages, from the 5K to the art contest to the bike ride.

— Follow reporter Laura Carrell on Twitter @CourierLauraC