Four years ago, Kathryn Matlack and Paula Apro founded The Art Loft as an equal-opportunity art center available to everyone with an interest in art, regardless of income, age, or experience level. 

The nonprofit organization now located in the Thorndike building in Rockland began with the vision of a grassroots community art center. According to their mission statement, they “believe the beneficial, therapeutic effects of creating art are not dependent on a person’s skill or talents and can enrich the lives of all. We support the emotional health and wellbeing of those in our community by stimulating their creative spirits while being attentive to their gifts.” There is no age limit, ability or financial restrictions, and the classes range from beginning to advanced. 

The organization offers instruction, exhibits, open studio time and artist salons and casts a wide net with its opportunity to share work in a group setting. One can sign up for individual classes or become a member for an annual fee at different levels; the basic supporter membership includes two art classes per week from April through November, discounts on workshops and paint nights and free guest passes for family and friends.

I had a conversation with David Blanchard, who is the incoming director. He is also founder of the Knox County Art Society, founded in March of this year — a growing artist group, where visual artists of all ages can be involved in face-to-face opportunities for learning, collaboration and the exchange of ideas, resources and skills. The two organizations have the shared goal of community and accessability for art, and Blanchard is enthusiastic to take on the Art Loft directorship, with its teaching and work space availability and the fact that it’s located in Rockland.

In his new role beginning in January, Blanchard plans to offer consultation for those hoping to get plugged into a class at the appropriate level — and the question of “who is this course intended for” can be answered, instead of finding it out after joining a class and feeling that it isn’t the right fit. There is a progression in ability, of course, in art skill, and one must wade before one swims, swim before one flies.

He also wants to institute regular hours, showing that the Art Loft is open for business, and available for artists to explore a new art community.

Finding Inspiration: a class with Amy Wilton 

I had the opportunity to sit in on Amy Wilton’s class, “Finding Inspiration,” at the Art Loft. The weather was iffy, but two other participants showed up, and we ended up having a lively and interesting discussion while sitting around one of the work tables surrounded by Amy Wilton’s artwork, both paintings and photographs. Wilton is from Hope and has been a professional photographer for 20 years, developing a photography presence in the midcoast. Now she has begun to branch out into other realms, other mediums, like found-object sculpture. 

She talked about what has inspired her, the fact that inspiration can come from things that bug her, and that art can be a way to “work it out.” “It’s cheaper than therapy,” she says. She talked about finding a healthy way of expressing negative emotions. Stepping back and looking at emotions that are hard or troubling can lead to other avenues of expression or a deeper meaning, rather than bottling up or supressing feelings.

A quote was shared by our Russian participant from Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina”: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”  

Writing, of course, can define some things in words, but using another language, a visual one, can open avenues for exploration and expression, like asking where did that subject come from or what could it look like?

We talked a bit about metaphor (a word or phrase applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable) — and that this can give rise to imagery that may not be immediately obvious. When you think of a feeling and where it arises from . . .  what does it make you think of? What’s another word or symbol for it? The color red or strong stokes of feeling across a big canvas might express anger. What words give rise to images — for example, does a tear rolling down a cheek connote sadness? What medium seems to fit your fingers?

She then had the group write down feelings or emotions about things happening in life currently, and went around and had each person talk about the results. For me, it was taking feelings and applying them to a piece I am working on — giving it a different, more personal expression, and that is what I’ll be working on. It was helpful to talk about ideas and have the opportunity to talk about what the others were sharing and to discuss possible ways of expression.

It was also helpful to see the sculpture piece that the teacher was working on (sitting on a table near us) as she talked about her own process and evolution with it — dramatic imagery that expressed strong feelings about something happening in her own life. 

We talked about a common language of symbols —  and that using metaphors can be subject to interpretation by the viewer, so there is the possibility that the viewer gets a different meaning than the artist intended. The artist can have their own visual language, much as a dream can be interpreted differently by the self or others. And it can also be mysterious, opening the door for other meanings.

I came away feeling inspired to look at my own work with a different perspective, both that work that is already done, and some ideas for new works.

For more information about the Art Loft and the classes they offer, visit their website: artloftrockland.org. 


There will be a Knox County Art Society (KCAS) members’ meeting Tuesday, December 10, at 5 p.m. at the Lord Camden Inn with a reception, business meeting, and then a tour by Colin Page of the Page Gallery. KCAS just launched their Instagram presence, under KCAS. They also have a Facebook page.