Popular art class at Blakehurst a first for some, even at 97

Towson Times
The art work, of mostly outdoor scenes, fills a wall in the recreation room at Blakehurst.

Their art work fills one wall of Blakehurst's recreation room. There are pictures of woods, of a field of flowers, of a formal garden. They're done in watercolors and oil pastels. Each is signed and dated by the artist.

On Feb. 24, 10 residents gathered in the rec room for the weekly, hour-long art class. That's about the average size.

"It's a popular class," said Tyree Hardy, lead recreation assistant at Blakehurst, a retirement community at 1055 W. Joppa Road.

Jennifer Merriman led the class. A retired art and art history teacher, who has taught at community colleges and in Baltimore parochial schools including Immaculate Conception School in Towson, Merriman began teaching the class a year ago.

"I like working with people," said the Lutherville resident, a mother of three adult children.

Merriman's own art work is sold in a store called The Gift Cellar, on Harford Road. She said she is also writing and illustrating a series of books for children.

Marjorie Merriman, 92, Jennifer's mother and Blakehurst resident, is a graduate of Maryland Institute, College of Art. She is a retired professional artist. "I mainly worked in oil but also watercolor," she said.

"Her studio was in the Mill Center," said her daughter. "She had quite a following."

While the Blakehurst art class is not officially deemed an art therapy class, Merriman, who does have a master's degree in fine art from Maryland Institute, College of Art, said it accomplishes many of the same goals.

"They use their hands, they have to think about the art," she said. "It keeps them busy and involved, and it makes them feel comfortable and confident." Most importantly, she added, "The class is for their enjoyment. There is no frustration."

For many of the participants, the art class seemed to be their first encounter with art lessons or, at least, their first in decades.

Isabel Martin, 97, a former Stoneleigh resident, is one. "I always wanted to take an art class. This is the first time I've have time to do it," said the former school music teacher.

Another is Stuart Londeree, 90, a former Hampton resident and retired dentist whose practice was in Towson. Londeree remembers taking an art class in high school.

"I'm enjoying this," he said as he traced a picture of a castle.

Merriman said that when she started teaching the class, she went over art techniques like perspective and texture with the students. They always use a picture or photograph of something to copy, according to Merriman.

"It's hard to conjure an image out of your head if you don't know the subject well," she said of original ideas for a picture. She initially had the students copy pictures of flowers in a vase "but that took a lot of drawing," she continued, and eventually found outdoor scenes worked best.

Merriman has the residents use watercolor, acrylic and oil pastels, the latter resembling crayons but made of pigment and oil."

We go back and forth among the three mediums," she said.

Blakehurst resident Linda van Reuth was observing the art class. "I took art classes at the Baltimore Museum of Art as a child," said the former Ruxton resident whose grandfather. Edward C. van Reuth, was a professional artist whose oil paintings hang in The Engineer's Club and Maryland Historical Society.

The retired marketing executive and residential real estate agent said she is planning to take a watercolor class, something "I've always wanted to do."

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