By John Toole
---- — PELHAM — In small brush strokes and patient tones, Salem artist Danny Dancer is opening the world of art to Pelham seniors.
“The Art of Growth” is a cooperative class of Pelham Public Library and the Pelham Senior Center, aimed at letting seniors express their creativity.
Adult services librarian Annie Seiler said the program is designed to give seniors a well-rounded, lifelong learning experience.
“They have been very responsive and very involved,” she said. “They are having fun and learning a lot.”
Students meet for an hour each week at the library where Dancer will talk to them about famous artists, great art and artistic styles.
This week, they discussed the recovery in Germany of an estimated $1 billion in art seized by the Nazis during World War II.
The creativity comes during their two-hour workshop at the senior center, where they are putting into practice what they learn.
“Most of them want to get into the basics, the fundamentals, and learn about perspective, proportion, light and shadows,” Dancer said. “We try to cover the various interests.”
JoAnn Verdina, 71, signed up when her husband, Philip, encouraged her to pursue her artistic passion through the class.
“I just like to doodle all the time,” Verdina said.
She thought she would see what she could learn.
“I’m really learning things,” she said. “I really have progressed.”
She characterizes some of her drawings as too flat before coming to class.
She showed off a new work in one of her sketchbooks, a lighthouse landscape.
“Now my sketches have depth,” Verdina said. “I look out the window now and see where the light source is coming from and how shadows fall off an object.”
The class is a small group, with usually a half-dozen seniors attending.
Verdina and classmate Gloria Loureiro, 58, had Dancer to themselves yesterday.
Loureiro and her husband, Manuel, enrolled after the library staff told them about the class.
Loureiro has always had an interest in pencil drawings, but the class is making a difference for her.
“This makes me sit down and do it,” she said.
The course isn’t a big expense for the seniors. The $20 fee includes supplies.
Dancer has them working with acrylic paints, which he said is easier than the oils he prefers for his paintings that have won awards.
Yesterday, Dancer took turns working on a landscape of his own, explaining technique as his students looked over his canvas, then sitting down individually with his students to critique their projects.
“These brushes are so stiff. I’m going to soften them a bit,” he tells them, dipping the brushes in water.
Nearby, Loureiro sketched a sleeping baby, based on a drawing from an art book she brought to class.
Dancer left his landscape to check on the students.
“I think yours is really working better than that one,” Dancer told Loureiro, admiring her effort.
“You’re probably taking something he did and improving it,” he said.
Dancer gave Loureiro tips on shading and they discussed the challenges of drawing hands.
Then he demonstrated for Verdina how to blot water color from her moistened pencils to lighten the canvas.
“A lot of times you can use blue for a shadow, which gives you cool for a shadow,” Dancer told her.
“Just watching and listening to him you pick up so many tips,” Verdina said.
Dancer paused over her sketch of a boat as he colored a sail.
“If I bring the red up to the yellow it will bleed in and make orange,” he told her.
Dancer previously taught art in schools and sees a difference in motivation for his new students.
“They are a little more serious about what they want to do,” he said.
There’s no pressure for these students.
“You are not getting graded” Dancer told them. “There is no right or wrong here.”
His approach appears to be working.
“He’s doing a fantastic job inspiring their creativity,” Seiler said.
Loureiro has enjoyed the program, both lecture and workshop.
“You get to see different artists and types of work,” she said. “You get to broaden your portfolio of artists you recognize.”
Verdina peered over Dancer’s shoulder as his landscape took shape.
“His sky is a lot better than mine,” she said.
Dancer had words of praise for Verdina.
“She’s getting better with her perspective,” he said.
Perspective and practice may make it perfect for Verdina.
She estimated she spends a couple of hours drawing each day.
“My husband says I don’t dust anymore, I sit and sketch,” she said.
That might be an exaggeration.
“I try to find time for this between doing a chore and cooking,” she said.
The library would like to continue the four-week program, probably in the spring, Seiler said.
Dancer yesterday got a favorable response from his class about possibly involving younger art students at some point.
Verdina said art is something other seniors should pursue.
“Give it a try. You don’t have to know much to start,” she said. “It is very soothing. You sit at a table and time goes by.”