Mitchell School marks 50 years of art

Towson Times
Mitchell School celebrates teaching art for 50 years.

Audrey Bergin runs a domestic violence program at a local hospital. It's a stressful job and one that, a year ago, led her to take up painting.

"I got a recommendation from an artist friend," said Bergin, who signed up for a weekly oil painting class at the Mitchell School of Fine Arts, 6247 Falls Road. "I get so involved in the painting that by the end of the class, I have no idea what I was worrying about."

The Mitchell School offers such an array of classes that there's something for everyone, whatever the reason for taking them. The school is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary with two exhibits, both open to the public: "Masters in the Making," an exhibit by adult students, through June 5, and "Foundations for the Future," a youth students' exhibit, from June 12 through July 30.

The late Elizabeth "Polly" Byrd Mitchell, a well-known portrait artist in her day, founded the school in 1965. It moved to its present location 35 years ago where, in 2000, Trevor Twist entered the scene. The school was for sale and Twist, a Baltimore native and graduate of the Boys' Latin School of Maryland and Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, bought it.

Twist is now owner and director of the Mitchell School, although that's not the role he envisioned for himself as an art student. "I thought I'd go to New York" and be a starving, if ultimately famous, artist, said Twist, 35 and single.

Instead, a phone call from the then-owner of the Mitchell School that it was for sale, and at a price he could afford, brought him back to Baltimore. "I decided I wanted to run my own school," said Twist, who oversees a staff of six, five of whom, besides him, are teachers.

The one-story building is divided into a vast studio and a smaller office. On a recent spring day, an adult art class had just ended and their easels filled the studio, leaving on display their efforts, with varying success, to replicate a Peter Paul Rubens' drawing of a lion.

"We have adult students who haven't taken an art class since high school and people who have studied here for a decade," said Twist.

"At first, I thought I would start a teaching studio where no one would draw from pictures," he continued. "Then I realized you have to follow the art tradition" in teaching, from the fundamentals on up.

The school offers fee-based classes for adults and children from grades three to 11, as well as a summer youth art camp. Classes include classical drawing and design, animal painting, landscape painting, watercolor and original oil painting. Students can choose to work in oils, watercolor, pastels, graphite, charcoal and pen and ink.

Twist figures the school typically has 200 students per week, adults and youth, and increasing enrollment is a goal. "We have students from six- and seven-year-olds to people in their 60s and 70s," said Twist, who continues to paint, mainly animal portraits. A horse portrait was a recent prize-winner.

Emerald Lodgen, 17, a Joppatown High School senior, began taking classes two years ago. Twist teaches her weekly class, the subject changing according "to what he thinks we should be learning," said Lodgen, who had taken art classes before but wanted more focused lessons.

At the Mitchell School, Lodgen has worked in graphite and charcoal, and has done figure drawing and portraits. "I always liked drawing but I didn't know how. Trevor helped me develop my own style," said Lodgen, who will participate in the youth art exhibit.

For the adult art exhibit, whose paintings and drawings on this spring day line the walls of the studio, Bergin chose to display her painting of a cow with hay on its nose. She couldn't be prouder of the painting or happier with the exhibit.

"I love it. It's my first art exhibit and it's a thrill to see my painting in it," she said.

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