The Behrens Street Pastel Artists create a show for the library
When the majority of Deborah Donahower’s Tuesday afternoon art students had completed replicating Winslow Homer’s 1877 “New Novel,” his painting of a reclining woman reading a book, she gave them directions for the next painting.
“Now, see this through Klimt’s eyes,” Donahower said. “You know his style. Make it look like he did it.”
More than a dozen adult students, familiar with the work of Gustav Klimt, began executing a second piece of the reclining woman in a style reminiscent of the Austrian artist who died 100 years ago.
As they maneuvered pastel sticks of “pure color pigment” over paper, students chatted. Some conversations centered on the recent Klimt exhibition at the Legion of Honor at the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco. Others discussed the advantages of working with pastel sticks.
Everyone was excited about having their own art appear in public.
The work of the Behrens Street Pastel Artists is on display this month at the Napa County Library, 580 Coombs St., Napa. A reception with wine and hors d’oeurves for the exhibition will be held Friday, Feb. 9, from 6-7:30 p.m. with an art talk at 6:30 p.m.
“I was thrilled when we were accepted for Art in the Library,” Donahower said. “It is very gratifying to have my students’ work acknowledged and put on display for the public. They have worked very hard over many years, and it is wonderful to see that hard work come to fruition and be witnessed by the public.
The exhibit will feature two paintings each by 15 students of her 17 pastel students.
“I consider my pastel class a ‘community of artists’ as well as students,” she said. “We all enjoy the process of learning and growing in the field of pastels. We love seeing all the different interpretations of one image, from the different student’s efforts and appreciate learning from different perspectives.”
Donahower has been teaching art for 40 years. During that time, she has empowered many beginning artists with the basic, foundation skills in art that allowed them to develop their own personal style. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from UC Santa Barbara in studio art, with an emphasis in ceramics, printmaking and pastels. She taught for the Hudson River Museum, in Yonkers, New York, and for the Branson School in Marin. She was also the owner and director of Pottery Design Center in Los Angeles and Wisteria Studio in Marin.
Donahower has also taught ceramics, mosaics and pastels for 10 years through Napa Valley College Community Education Department. As an instructor, the most main thing Donahower wants her students to understand is the importance of observation. “Art is three-fourths observation and one-fourth execution,” she said. “They need to develop the discipline and ability to draw what they ‘actually’ see, as opposed to what their brains think they see. Once that skill is accomplished, they can expand out into their own vision, style and techniques. “
Donahower has always loved art and been drawn to it. She remembers that her second-grade teacher wrote on her report card that that she excelled in art. “I guess I took that to heart and went with it,” she laughed.
“I love pastels because it is a very forgiving medium, and I like the immediate contact of the medium on the paper and using my fingers and the pastel sticks to create art.”
In a class where some students have been coming for a decade, a comfortable cohesiveness has developed between classmates.
“It is like family here. This is my seventh year. I was a major in art in college and taught special education at Vintage High School for 38 years,” said Sandy Hansen (Haroutunian during her teaching years).
“This is an awakening for me.” Deborah is really a great teacher. She pushes us and helps us expand,” Hansen said.
“Drawing animals is what I like to do most, especially cats and birds,” Hansen added.
Useful critiquing, accompanied with the understanding that no one ever says anything negative about anyone’s work, keeps the atmosphere in the large, airy classroom pleasant. There’s also humor and lots of friendly banter between students.
“I like to sit here and listen to all the women gossip,” joked Guy Sandler, a former district attorney. “You don’t feel intimidated here and I like how you can erase mistakes with soft pastels.”
“The people here are all really nice. Deborah is a great teacher and I love the building (where the class is held),” said Claudia Moffitt.
“Everyone’s so supportive here. I like the camaraderie in the class,” said Diana Carnevali, who has been taking this art class for 10 years.
The original Carnevali acorn painting, which was used on the Art in the Library announcement for February’s featured artists, no longer exists. It was destroyed, along with all her other art, when her Atlas Peak home burned in the October wildfires.
Carnevali said that coming back to the class after her shocking loss has been a healing experience for her.
Art in the Library is sponsored by Friends of the Library and the Napa County Library Foundation. The public is welcome to view the art and meet the artist who then gives a talk about their work, process and inspirations.
A jury of local artists, a library commissioner and art in the library coordinator, Stephnia Pramuk view all entries and make selections for the year. The judging is blind, without identifying factors that could identify the artist.