When I enter the space at 45 Harvard Street in Brookline Village, former location of the beading and craft store Abeille and now the home of Art with Amy, I have the feeling of walking into a busy artist’s studio. But this isn’t just any artists’ space—this is a kids’ art studio, dedicated purely to the pursuit of creativity and the impulse of imagination.
The front room is a kid’s dream, a comfortably messy workspace with all sorts of bits and baubles at the ready for the kids’ use. I see beads, seashells, old clothing, colored felt, books and magazines, glittery strips of clay. There is so much to take in and yet the students—five girls ranging from first to fifth grade—seem right at home in the managed chaos. Where was it that I read that the most creative people often have the messiest desks?
The back room is Amy Solomon’s private studio, where she creates paintings, drawings and mixed media pieces. Solomon is the founder and owner of Art with Amy art classes for kids.
I spot Solomon standing at the ready to help a student but hanging back just enough not to be intrusive. I first met Solomon, a local artist and BFA graduate of Massachusetts College of Art and Design, at Brookline Open Studios in April. I learned that she had been teaching art in and around Boston for the past eleven years.
“There are no mistakes here,” Amy says, referring to her classroom, as she prepares the kids to start a new project—melting crayons into wax to make candles. Kids in Art with Amy classes are allowed to follow their own muse. What they come up with is surprisingly sophisticated. A visual art journal made using a discarded hardback book, an actual matchbox car with wooden wheels, beautiful Japanese-inspired paper lanterns, and intriguing mixed-media artwork.
I ask Amy where she acquired all her raw materials. She tells me some items she brings from home, but often it’s when she’s out and about that she spots something that could be useful in an art project (she has the artist’s eye for finding the beauty in what other people overlook, as well as the ability to turn those items into something eye-catching and interesting.) A perfectly intact door someone was discarding has become a full-size canvas for the kids to do collage. Amy tells me it’s also not unusual for a passer-by to stop in and give her raw materials they think she could use. Framers Workshop across the street also regularly donates supplies.
Art with Amy classes are longer than your average 40-minute class period that kids normally get in school. Typically kids start Art with Amy classes right after school lets out and stay as late as 6p.m. Amy purposefully keeps the class size small—she says 8-10 kids is the maximum and she likes to mix age groups because the younger kids like learning from the older ones—and it’s not hard to imagine that the older ones enjoy acting as role models for the younger children. Sometimes the older students also serve as classroom helpers, providing another set of eyes (and another pair of hands) when a younger student is feeling stuck. While I am there, one younger student accidentally upends a box of small wooden doodads and an older student instantly sweeps in to help the child put everything back in the box.
5th-grader Maya helps Amy set up the single burner they will use to melt the crayon wax. One at a time each student takes a turn handing Amy their crayons and watching as the colors swirl together in the pan.
“It might start to smell,” Amy warns me, but I don’t mind it; it’s a nostalgic smell, of a happy childhood spent bent over coloring books and construction paper, with the singular thought of making something that didn’t exist before.
In addition to the time spent working on individual pieces, Amy introduces the kids to famous artists and even some less-famous ones. When an exhibit of Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai opened at the Museum of Fine Arts this spring, Amy explained the art of printmaking. Posted near the door to the studio are magazine articles featuring interviews with influential artists and designers like Iris Apfel, who is the subject of a new documentary that recently screened at the Coolidge, “Iris.”
Once the wax is melted, Amy pours it into an empty juice box and each child adds a wick. Amy and her charges debate on whether to sit and hold the wick in place and wait for the wax to dry around it, or set it aside and come back to it later when the wax is less liquid and more pliable. They settle on the latter. I tell Amy how I like that she doesn’t necessarily dictate every step of the project but lets the kids decide for themselves what might work.
“It’s the art of practice,” Amy replies. “It’s being open to trying new things and showing kids, ‘hey, you can do it.’”
This summer, Art with Amy will take the fun and creativity outside, picnicking and making art projects in Billy Ward and Pierce Parks. Amy Solomon’s next gallery show will be at AMP Gallery in Provincetown this coming October.
—By Jennifer Campaniolo