A Fairview woman who attended art school in New York City has been teaching children’s art classes for nearly 30 years.
Anita Herron believes she’s filling a need in the community. “Kids need recognition for what they do in the arts,” she said. “They get a lot of sports at school.”
She offers opportunities for recognition by helping children participate in competitions. For the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Junior Duck Stamp Contest, some of her students have drawn and painted pictures of ducks for a national competition in which the winner’s picture is selected to become a postage stamp. Although she’s never had a national winner, she’s had students become state winners.
A few of her students have entered a similar competition with drawings of fish, and several have also won top honors at local fairs and in other contests. Two of her current students are following in their mother’s footsteps –their mother took art lessons from Herron years ago when she was a child.
Herron teaches every weekday evening –Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 5 or 7 p. m. for children, and Thursdays at 6 p. m. for adults. At any given time, she has about 40 total students.
For children, she likes to encourage holiday-themed projects; lately they’ve been painting pumpkins. But students are also free to choose any projects that interest them. Opening drawers for each session, she displays her students’ paintings and drawings in various stages of completion. There are pictures of animals, people, Disney characters and landscapes done in a variety of media –pastels, watercolors, acrylics, pen and ink. One boy is even painting a pair of white canvas sneakers. Occasionally she’ll order in a batch of clay, but most of the time her students do two-dimensional work.
Her students often copy from calendars, greeting cards and magazine photos. Herron believes this helps them learn to match colors and hone techniques, but she emphasizes that the students mustn’t sell anything they’ve copied.
She begins accepting students at age 8, and many stay for several years.
“You start to lose them when they’re 15 and 16,” when they get jobs and learn to drive, she said. But a handful of students stick with art. Two of her former students went on to professional art careers, and a third may be in the works. Herron’s granddaughter, Taylor Herron, who took lessons from her grandma and won some of the competitions Herron’s students enter, is now studying art therapy at Marywood University.
Herron likes to keep her classes small. She has nine available workstations, but usually only five or six are occupied. If all nine are full, she asks her granddaughter to help teach because she likes to offer students individual attention. And she always tries to find something positive to say to each one.
“Maybe they’re drawing an animal and the tongue is too long,” she said. She’ll point out the error and help them fix it, but “I’ll say, ‘You did a great job on the eyes,’ or find something they’ve done well.”
In her studio, she has a wall of fame where she posts newspaper clippings about students who win competitions. She also has hung several of her own creations that have won top honors at county fairs.
Entering her own work at local fairs has been her primary means of publicity. In fact, she began teaching art when parents saw her artwork at fairs and contacted her to ask if she would teach their children.
“We started out at a kitchen table, and then I had a breakfast bar” occupied with students, she said. “I’ve never advertised for students, ever.”
Her own training consisted of two years at Washington School of Art in New York, where she specialized in portraiture, followed by classes at Luzerne County Community College.
“It was rough” going to school in New York, she said, noting her family didn’t have a lot of money. “I’d get my assignments back, and they’d always say, ‘Choose better paper.’” She scrounged white paper from the packaging when her father bought new shirts, and once she even siphoned gasoline from the family lawn mower to use as a reducer for her oil paints.
In community college, she added lettering and commercial art to her repertoire. She has lettered signs, designed decals for racecars, done courtroom sketching for television, painted lamps and wall murals, and designed fashion art for newspaper ads. One summer, between jobs, she asked a local horse boarder ifshe could sit in his barn and sketchhorses. Horse owners saw what shewas doing, and one by one, theybegan asking her to sketch theirhorses for them.
She once painted a portrait ofRonald Reagan, and when it wasfinished, she decided to send it toNancy Reagan. She keeps a framedcopy of the hand-signed thank-youletter she received from Mrs. Reagan.
Art has been a path to great varietyin her life and has allowed her tomeet many interesting people, shesaid. And for students, she believesart is rewarding because “you havesomething to look at at the end of theday.”