Last spring, internationally known sculptor Mardie Rees opened a new sculpture studio that she and her husband built in Wauna.
Soon after the studio opened, Rees began teaching art classes to children and adults.
“She’s teaching fundamental, basic skills,” said Mardie’s mother, Beth Rees. “She teaches all different ages –– classes in charcoal and sculpture and drawing.”
Children especially enjoy the classes, Beth Rees said.
She said kids gravitate to her because there aren’t many opportunities for children to learn about art from a professional artist.
“And they like her because she doesn’t underestimate their abilities. I think that’s a very big thing because children are capable of doing similar types of skills as adults but it’s not really being taught in our schools and it hasn’t been taught in the U.S. for a long time..” said Beth Rees.
“Often kids are taking art classes from people who are just interested in art but aren’t actually professionals in the art world,” she said.
The children and their parents seem to agree.
Young Anne Louden, 7, recently took a sculpture class from Rees. “Miss Mardie is a good teacher and we’re having fun,” Anne said as she worked on a clay angel.
“First you get a stand with a big piece of clay on it and you wrap the clay around and scratch the end of it.
“Then you put the clay on it to attach it and then you put wings on it. Then there are bigger wings. And then you make a neck and a head. When you’re done with that you do the feathers. And then you work on the eyes, the mouth and the nose and eyebrows –– the whole face.
“It’s kind of hard, but we get lots of help from Miss Mardie,” Anne said.
Artondale resident Erica Conklin is new to the area but her 8-year-old daughter Reilly has already taken two of Rees’ classes.
“Reilly did a charcoal class with Mardie last summer and she loved it,” Erickad use them to create her own piece. It turned out really nice –– beyond my expectations. Her charcoal piece is now framed and hanging up in our house,” Conklin said with obvious pride.
Mimi Will, another Gig Harbor resident, has brought both of her children to Rees’ classes.
“My 7-year-old son George and 6-year-old daughter Anna came to Mardi’s charcoal class last summer. And Anna came back for the sculpture class in December,” Will said.
“I think my kids think it’s kind of amazing they’re working with a real artist and they get to bring home what they make,” she said.
Wills calls Rees’ new studio “a little gem.” It’s a wonderful little place in the middle of all we have here. And it’s quality. It’s real, authentic art.
“Mardie obviously has a lot of other things she’s doing so to tuck these classes into all the other things she’s doing is pretty wonderful,”she said.
Rees is best known in this area for her statue of Saint Anthony at the Gig Harbor hospital, but her work can also be seen in Canada, Washington D.C. and Colorado.
She built the new studio because she “needed more space. I needed a place with high ceilings for doing larger sculptures,” she said.
“I’ve always wanted to teach and to mentor and to hopefully raise up some future professional artists. We need more artists,” Rees said. “There’s nothing for kids like what I’m doing.”
As a child Rees went to Minter Creek Elementary and liked that art and other classes were sometimes taught together.
“In third grade we learned about the Eskimos in Alaska and we sculpted things out of soap and we’d make little scenes of snow,” she recalled.
“We were taught about history through art. But when I got into fourth, fifth and sixth grade and 10th grade there was no kind of art taught in schools and there weren’t even any professional artists in the area teaching art in a way that wasn’t crafty,” Rees said.
Learning real art is important because we need art for the soul, she said.
“A well-rounded kid has an understanding of art as well as history and science and math. Art is just as important as science and math.”
Rees introduces the children to famous artists as she teaches how to draw and sculpt.
In a class on color theory and painting, she references the collage work of Eric Carle (author of popular children’s books including “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” “The Mixed-up Chameleon” and “Walter the Baker”).
Sculpture classes often refer to the work of Giacometti.
“I’m teaching the kids about professional artist and we talk about composition, colors, form, pattern and shape, emotion –– how to evoke an emotion through sculpture or drawing,” she said.
In last summer’s clay sculpting class her students made 3D owls. In the fall, Rees taught a class on charcoal drawing focusing on the basics of taking a two-dimensional drawing and making it look 3D.
“I taught the kids about core shadows, cast shadows, how to manipulate charcoal, basic things about drawing,” she said.
Many of her students are repeats, but there are also new kids in every class. “I think a lot of it is word of mouth. I’m local. I’m nearby and it’s safe, affordable fun.
“I’m teaching adult art skills to kids –– the fundamentals of drawing, painting and sculpture,” she said.
The parents love it. They can’t believe what their kids are making, she said.
“The kids surprise them with what they’ve learned and their understanding of art. And the skills they develop in class are life-long ––things like motor skills and how to look at art and understand it. How to hold their tools and use their materials –– how to hold their pencil and use their erasers. How to look at something and draw it,” Rees said.
For information visit mardierees.com/apprentice.
UNDERWRITTEN BY NEWSMATCH/MIAMI FOUNDATION, THE ANGEL GUILD, ROTARY CLUB OF GIG HARBOR, ADVERTISERS, DONORS AND PEOPLE WHO SUPPORT LOCAL, INDEPENDENT NONPROFIT NEWS