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The Art of Teaching Art: Holyoke Creative Arts Center

Photo Credit: Jennifer Garutti

HOLYOKE—For nearly 95 years, a local arts center that started as a community service and crafts education program has been bringing out the inner creativity of budding artists in the western Massachusetts area.

Through an entrance tucked on the backside of the South Street Plaza at 400 Elm St., the Holyoke Creative Arts Center offers more than 30 arts and crafts classes to adults in oil painting, quilting, furniture refurbishing, jewelry making, woodcarving, knitting, home décor design, and cake decorating, among other activities.

Many of the people who got up the courage to act on their arts and crafts hankerings do so because they want an escape, said Madelyn Ginley, a 10-year member of the Center’s Board of Directors and a participant in the quilting classes.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Garutti

“People come here because it’s entertaining. We have people who have taken classes for 18 to 20 years. They get used to being with their friends,” she said. “It’s relaxing for them, kind of like therapy.

Barbara Proulx of Holyoke is one such example. For more than 20 years she has taken classes in chair caning, stenciling on velvet and now oil painting—admittedly a big step for her as she had never painted before.

“I think my art skills are getting better,” said Proulx, noting that she usually gives her paintings to family and friends or donates pieces to the Center’s annual fundraising auction. “It’s a pleasure to take these classes.”

Over the long haul, the center served many different purposes—from self-help activities to even offering a rooftop gardens program—all while continuing to expand its arts and crafts classes.

For those who don’t know about this seemingly hidden gem, the center continues to feature a staff of teachers—many of whom are artists in their own right—who have shared their talent and skills with artist wannabes for many years.

Anne Mueller is a professional artist and has been an instructor at the center since 1987, giving her the distinction of having taught there the longest. She leads five classes a week, including in oil and watercolor painting and pen and ink drawings to nurses, teachers, chiropractors and businesspeople and others from a wide variety of backgrounds.

“Many of my students have been with me since I began here. They mainly do it to relax and to release tension,” she said, noting that a number of them are retirees who now have the time to focus on their passion. “It’s a laid back environment. Everyone who’s here wants to be. It’s stress-free and very homey.”

Pat Welch is another longtime instructor at the Center. For 17 years she has taught oil and acrylic painting as well as watercolors.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Garutti

“I love the students. If I don’t have time to paint, my next reward is teaching them to paint,” said Welch, who has been an artist for 40 years and has her home studio in Belchertown.

One of the most popular classes is furniture reupholstering, with students often bringing in their own pieces from home to fix up, Ginley said.

The Center is always in search of new classes and teachers, and occasionally surveys students about what they would like to see offered, she said.

“We have lasted so long because it’s something that people want and have wanted since the beginning,” Ginley said. “We keep growing and changing and offering people interesting classes.”

Students come from all over the Pioneer Valley, including Springfield, Chicopee, Granby, Belchertown, West Springfield, Agawam, Northampton, and Easthampton. They mostly hear about the Center from news briefs in the local papers, the Center’s website, and word-of-mouth, Ginley said.

The money students pay to take classes helps fund the Center, along with rental assistance from the city of Holyoke and other sources, such as a Community Development Block Grant. Fund-raising efforts, including the annual auction, provide funds for scholarships the center gives to those who cannot afford to attend.

Link to feature on quilting at the Center on Mass Appeal:

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