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Valley Arts Council showcases new digs with live model sketching class

March 23, 2019

ANSONIA — The room was quiet, almost silent, save for the scratching of graphite against paper.

It was cold, but model Keri Carlson was dressed in a sheer nightgown. And it was bright — illuminated by two spotlights and overhead lights as an English teacher, a painting contractor, a sales manager and a sculptor each tried their hand at sketching Carlson.

It was a night of firsts: the first time Carlson had ever posed for artists; the first Valley Arts Council life drawing class in its new Ansonia digs.

“I’m starting with this exercise — drawing without looking at the paper,” said Seymour resident Betsy Rosenberg, who kept her eyes on the model instead of her hands. “This is the first time I’ve done this in 36 years. I need to get my bearings.”

Rosenberg was one of 10 participants in the class who arrived carrying portfolios and boxes of colored pencils, pens and chalks. One brought just a pad and two No. 2 pencils.

Most sat in chairs to do their work, but Vasil Rakaj, a transplanted Albanian living in Ansonia, brought his own carved bench with a built-in easel.

Richard DiCarlo, the council’s president and one of the 10 participants, said the Arts Council programs moved from downtown Derby to an Ansonia storefront across from City Hall last fall.

“(Mayor) Dave (Cassetti) and Sheila (O’Malley, Ansonia’s economic development director) opened their doors to us,” DiCarlo said. “They’ve given us a lot of opportunity to showcase art in the Valley.”

The gallery, located on Main Street in what had been Joe Diglio’s barbershop for the past half century, allows artists to exhibit and sell their pieces.

The Arts Council also uses three small rooms in the Armory for its activities. One holds the studio where “Art Talks” is filmed and will be appearing on YouTube and Comcast. Another is where Rakaj works on his sculpture of George Kastrioti, an Albanian nobleman and military commander in the 1400s. He intends to enter the finished piece in an European competition.

“We’re going to be doing something different every month,” DiCarlo said of the new storefront studio.

Plans include a watercolor class, one on bookbinding, another on polymer clay and one on Zentangle — the practice of using dots, lines and curves to create patterns. Each will last two hours with an instructor.

With Carlson perched atop a stool under two spotlights, DiCarlo offers no instructions for this first venture except to urge participants “to loosen up their strokes.”

“Everyone perceives things differently, so tonight is non-instructional,” he said.

Sitting next to DiCarlo was George Pudimat, a friend and Derby painting contractor.

“My challenge is drawing to proportions,” Pudimat said. “Accomplishing that is my whole goal between now and the end of the year.”

He said he “came in with no expectations” so he won’t be “disappointed ... the worse case is I gave it a shot.”

“It’s good to sketch a live model,” added Rakaj, whose bust of Martin Luther King Jr. was recently unveiled outside City Hall. His other works have been displayed in the United Nations, Buckingham Palace, the White House and the Vatican.

”The first thing you need to assess is proportions ... you want to look at the face, then take in the body — its muscles and bones. Sketching a model is the best teacher to have.”

Lisa Cheney’s figures only have faces early on in the evening.

“I’m good at drawing faces, not so good at drawing bodies,” said Cheney, a Seymour High School English teacher. “Everybody needs to have their hands in their pockets if I’m drawing them.”

But, she added, “my daughter can draw people like nothing.”

Her daughter, Gabrielle, who also was at the class, majored in illustration at Parsons School of Design in New York. Sitting behind her mother, Gabrielle dabbled with a rainbow box full of colored chalks. Her sketches were marked by bright and deep colors.

“I like messing around with watercolor pens, charcoal, pastels,” she said. “It’s a nice opportunity to do something you wouldn’t do alone at home.”

When the two-hour session ended, Mary Kohler, a B.J.’s sales manager, said she found it relaxing. She had attended Paier College of Art in Hamden and the Ringling College of Art and Design in Florida.

“I haven’t done this in a long time,” she said. “I think I did pretty good.”