Delivering Art to Your Doorstep

By Beacon Staff

WHITEFISH – When idealistic mothers decide they want more opportunities for their kids, good things happen. And sometimes, an entire community benefits.

In 1995, a group of women started Stumptown Art Studio in a small house on O’Brien Avenue in Whitefish. They operated on a simple premise: the more children are exposed to art and culture, the better off they’ll be.

“We were interested in art appreciation and art-making opportunities,” said Souheir Rawlings, an original founder who is still one of the organization’s directors. “We were moms looking for more art opportunities for our kids.”

But the opportunities have spread far beyond their kids. Stumptown Art Studio outgrew the house and eventually moved into its modern location on Central Avenue in downtown, where it has developed into somewhat of a regional phenomenon.

“We get tourists who say they haven’t seen anything like this ever in the big cities they’re from,” Melanie Drown, another director, said.

What makes Stumptown Art Studio unique is its interaction with the community. It is a place where anyone – from the general public to working artists – is invited to make and learn about art in a professional setting, with access to certified instructors and art-making tools.

The walk-in program is one of Stumptown’s trademarks. People can stop by the studio whenever it’s open and create an art memento. The three primary walk-in options are paint-your-own pottery, mosaic and glass fusing.

For example, you can choose an un-painted pottery set, apply your own painting touches and then the studio will fire the final product in its kiln. You walk out with a homemade gift for somebody, or maybe just a piece of art to put in your house.

Scheduled art classes and workshops are also popular, for both kids and adults. Private lessons are available as well.

Stumptown Art Studio serves as a co-op for local artists, in which artists pay a membership fee of $40 per month and have unlimited access to the facility – and its many art supplies and tools – during regular store hours.

The co-op has taken off over the last two years, Rawlings said, and it’s especially popular with college kids back home for summer vacation. In addition to use of the space, co-op artists get to display their art at the studio.

“We’re addressing that need for people who really need an environment to work in,” Rawlings said.

Over the past year, Stumptown Art Studio has significantly increased its outreach programs, Drown said, sending instructors to a variety of organizations, from schools to nursing homes.

The studio’s “Art From the Heart” program reaches out to the “underserved members of our community,” including the developmentally disabled and elderly. Art instructors work with Flathead Industries, Flathead Youth Home, Montana Veterans Home and Special Friends Advocacy, among other groups.

“That’s one thing we’re looking to develop is programs for people can’t necessarily make it to us,” Drown said.

A van purchased through a grant from the Montana Arts Council and Whitefish Community Foundation has enabled Stumptown Art Studio to expand its outreach programs. Instructors use the van – aptly named Van Gogh – to carry supplies and tools to varied locations across the region.

With Van Gogh, a hard-working staff and a group of idealistic mothers, Stumptown Art Studio can now achieve its goal of reaching everybody in the community.

“We go from 1-year-olds to nursing homes,” Rawlings said.

For more information on Stumptown Art Studio, visit www.stumptownartstudio.org or call (406) 862-5929.

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