One of our participant artists said what he most appreciated about the Piece by Piece program was the access to education that he and others would not normally have. Our free workshops to residents of South Los Angeles and the Skid Row area fill up fast with participants eager to learn. When a Visiting Artist is scheduled, there is often standing room only. Our participants come together in these workshops to not only to develop their skills, but hear how professional artists work, think, and build their successes.
Many schools and universities have visiting artist programs for good reason: It provides the opportunity for students to hear from established and emerging individuals in their specific vocation. At Piece by Piece, the visiting artist program becomes especially meaningful to our participants, who have little to no contact with the professional artist world. By sharing their experiences and special techniques, visiting artists to Piece by Piece help our participants gain self-confidence and embrace the power of knowledge.
Our visiting artist workshops have been supported by grants from the National Endowment of the Arts since 2009. Our very first NEA-sponsored visiting artist, Lillian Sizemore, helped to shape the nature of the program. An artist and an educator, Lillian was attune to the needs of our eager but unsure participant artists. Her first workshops brought not only highly-valued technical skill learning, but also opened doors for the more broad view of art in general. One of her first workshops was on traditional Roman mosaic borders. She led the class in exploring pattern, helped each individual develop their own piece, and facilitated a group project of a 3 ft x 5 ft mural using the techniques learned in the class.
Last year, we received a $30,000 grant to continue this program. We have been able to bring some of the most experienced artists to work with our participants on both individual and group projects. It was through one of our visiting artists, Sherri Warner Hunter, that we achieved one of our biggest goals of completing our first public art projects at the Villas at Gower and called appropriately, “Leaves“.
Visiting Artist Sherri Warner Hunter working with Piece by Piece team to create leaf substrates for Villas at Gower project (L).
Three Villas at Gower leaves installed on five-story housing unit for A Community of Friends and PATH.
With the help of San Diego-based artist Kim Emerson, we created three large spheres titled Pollinator’s Paradise, featuring work by inner-city youth. These spheres were on display at the Los Angeles County Arboretum this past summer.
Artist Kim Emerson working on 30-inch sphere substrate with Piece by Piece participants. These spheres, enhanced with butterflies made by at-risk youth, were on display at the Los Angeles County Arboretum this past summer.
Matt Doolin, of Topanga Art Tile has been a visiting artist several times, including assisting our artists in creating handmade tiles for our “Entangled Bank” mural at Irvine Valley College.
Other artists, such as Mireille Swinnen, work closely with participants on specific techniques. Most recently, she led the group in creating a mosaic table using the reverse method and a small mural using a special thinset technique.
It is through this program that many of our participant artists have discovered their own talents and interests. Jamie was inspired by visiting artist Sherri Warner Hunter and now works almost exclusively in concrete. Hugo found his voice in Lillian Sizemore’s Sacred Geometry workshop. Local artist Jolino Beserra inspired many with his pique assiette style, giving a fresh look at recycled china.
These workshops have also led to field trips that further enhance the learning experience. In addition to the Getty Villa with Lillian, we also took a trip to the Watts Towers with visiting artist and artist in residence Charles Dickson. A sculptor and metal artist, Charles shared his unique vision of using recycled elements in his own work.
Piece by Piece is developing a series of interviews with our visiting artists artists so everyone can get to know them better.We are grateful to these artists, who give their time to share techniques, styles, and visions to the many who would otherwise have no opportunity to have these experiences. The workshops open the door to new ideas, inspiration, and courage–to try something new. They also illuminate how artists create, each in their own unique style.