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Barbara Marder can’t wait to get back into the classroom. In fact, Education Director Anne Wright said Barbara was the first person to respond to Anne’s email request for instructors to teach in-person classes this spring. It’s not surprising, since Barbara has spent COVID in lockdown for nearly a year, painting solo in her home studio while her cube at Artisan’s Asylum sat empty.

Barbara’s relationship with the Somerville building goes back to 1989, before Artisan’s actually inhabited the space. “The Ames paper factory was located at 10 Tyler Street. They were very generous and would assemble large piles of paper leavings on the loading dock so teachers could come and take the leftovers for free.” Ames closed its Somerville factory in 2010.

“The next fall, a kindergarten teacher at Lincoln Park School (now the Argenziano School) told me they ‘made some kind of an arty thing’ where the paper company used to be. That very day I went to Tyler Street and met Molly Rubenstein and Gui Cavalcanti, who gave me a tour. It was a cavernous space, totally empty,” Barbara recalled. “They told me that over the next 3 months they would partition the new space, so I put my name on the list for a studio. Almost to the day, 3 months later, they called to tell me that the buildout was complete.” Barbara joined Artisan’s in 2012 as an evening and weekend member.

In February 2013, after nearly 28 years as a visual arts educator, Barbara retired from teaching to pursue her art. “One day the supervisor for the art department stopped me in the hall. I told her I had a class about to start, but she paid no attention and proceeded to talk,” Barbara recalled. “I got to the class about 3 minutes late, and went flying into the classroom. The whole roomful of 4thgraders yelled ‘She’s here!’ and gave me a standing ovation. I was stunned. It was that same day that I went home and told my husband that I was going to retire. He said, ‘but I thought you had such a good day?’ and I said, “Exactly. That’s the day you leave!”

With more time on her hands, Barbara switched to a daytime membership and began spending regular time at Artisan’s, both painting and rediscovering her love of enamels. “Watercolors and glass enamel connect for me because my focus is on color. You see the same kind of layering of color in both forms. I am so excited about what the colors can do–you just can’t paint those kinds of colors.” She went on to explain that enamels were a popular DIY home hobby in the 50s, so it was easy to pick up supplies at garage sales. Since powdered colors contain small particulates, best practice at the time was to wear a mask while working, so wearing a mask every day in our current environment is standard procedure. Barbara has stocked the studio at Artisan’s with a large assortment of enamel colors, some of which are no longer commercially available.

While Barbara doesn’t recall when she started teaching at Artisan’s (in 2014 according to the archives), she noted that all of her classes are designed for beginners. “My way of teaching is unique. Most teachers paint a picture of something and expect students to copy them. It’s like watching paint dry, literally. I give students exercises in techniques, then I might have a couple of still life projects, and ask everyone to bring in their own inspiration. If students bring in something they want to paint, they are invested and will figure out how to do it. When they are done with me, they have some skills to go off and work on their own.”

In her enamel classes, Barbara brings extra materials so students can experiment. “Firing time is short, only a couple of minutes,” she explained. “It’s sort of like making pizza. It’s very exciting, especially when the colors come together in unexpected ways.”

Barbara has been on a hiatus from teaching since COVID struck last March. While in lockdown, she continues to participate weekly with the Newton Watercolor Society and The Enamelist Society. Barbara recently completed a 6-week exhibition as part of the Newton Art Association, and her work was featured in the New England Juried Exhibition Chemical Exchanges for the Brookline Art Center in November and December.

Recently, Barbara has started coming into her studio one day a week. “It’s quieter during the day and I feel comfortable. I follow all of the rules, the doors have nanoseptic tape and I wear a mask.” Barbara enthusiastically noted that she received her first COVID vaccine on February 1, with the second scheduled for March 1. She will be fully vaccinated by the time she returns to the classroom at Artisan’s on April 3.

“I don’t have any personal fear of getting COVID since I will be vaccinated, but I am still going to follow all of the precautions. I just want to emphasize how safe students will be when coming back to the Asylum. We will follow all of the COVID rules including smaller class sizes so we can spread out. I understand that teaching in person is a huge responsibility and I am ready to take it on. I don’t want anyone to stay away because of the pandemic. We can make this work.”

Published by Artisan's Asylum on February 23, 2021.

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