On a giant screen in a classroom on the Kansas City Art Institute campus, the diminutive Venus of Willendorf looms large. However, the Art Sofa students in the room aren’t focusing on this iconic female statue circa 28,000 BCE, but on the larger than life teacher in front of it. Erin Dahl is busy demonstrating why the sculpture is so tiny, only 4.4 inches tall, by mimicking what it would be like for a tribal member to drag a giant sculpture on their back.
Bringing art history to life is what Dahl does. She takes a topic that could potentially be intimidating, and infuses it with an infectious mix of facts, storytelling and enthusiasm. It’s evident to everyone in the room that art history is a topic she knows well and whole-heartedly loves.
“I’m passionate about art history because I feel like it tells us so much about humanity in general, not just a specific culture or region. We share so much over the course of time. We are just people making things,” said Dahl.
Dahl is an adjunct faculty member in KCAI’s Art History department, just one the instructors for the non-credit Art Sofa series of classes, which takes you on a journey of art throughout the ages. You can start in the beginning and take a class on The Ancient World, progress to Medieval Through Renaissance and move on to the Late Renaissance through Realism. The next two classes cover Early Modern Impressionism through Surrealism and Modern and Contemporary. You can take the entire series or just one of the classes that interest you.
No matter what you decide, you can be certain that thanks to KCAI’s expert instructors, you’ll walk away with a new understanding of art history and what it tells us about the past, present and future.
“It’s a never-ending field. Some of it is entertaining and some of it is monumental. It inspires me as an artist and a maker. I’m constantly in awe and I want to share that with others,” said Dahl.
For adults who want to create art, you can explore non-credit fine art classes in fiber, photography, ceramics, woodworking, printmaking and more. No experience in art making? No worries. KCAI classes are open to everyone, regardless of your skill level.
Walk around the room in Sharon Hunter-Putsch’s Watercolor Painting class and you will see students creating a watercolor series that will eventually be bound into books. There is a woman using her garden as inspiration to paint ethereal plants and flowers. Behind her is a young man putting together a food diary to chronicle his culinary adventures. There’s also a woman telling her family’s history and deep connection to their Colorado land through paintings instead of words.
These artists come from diverse backgrounds. They are chemical engineers, traveling nurses and draftsmen, yet most of the students surprisingly have something in common — they have only been painting for two to three years.
Walking into an art class for the first time can be intimidating, but not when your instructor is Hunter-Putsch, who has taught over 70 continuing education classes since 2008. An accomplished painter with a long career in both the administrative and instructional side of arts education, Hunter-Putsch provides technical skills and constant encouragement.
“Most of my students are coming back to art after a very long hiatus or are just starting out. It’s amazing how committed the adult students are to what they are doing,” said Hunter-Putsch.
Tuesdays and Thursdays with Sharon classes are universally enjoyed by students because of her approach to teaching the basics and then moving on to advanced skills. She takes her students to paint en plein air at Loose Park or near the river in Parkville. One of the spring classes focused on drawing at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Her students say the classes are transformative.
“The way I look at the world now has really changed since I’ve started painting. Now I see the colors and composition in nature, food and even in the clothes I wear. It has influenced my whole life,” said Jeanne Chase, Watercolor Painting student.
To learn more about classes for art educators, high school students and youth at the School for Continuing and Professional Studies at the Kansas City Art Institute, please visit kcai.edu/artforeveryone or call 816-802-8333.
–Kathy St. Clair