Dana Nunes perched naked on a pedestal of pillows and blankets inside a studio at Featherstone Center for the Arts.
“I get a kick out of the flea market go-ers who look through the window and back up . . . and then look again,” she said.
Ms. Nunes was the model for the Tom Maley Life Drawing class which last Tuesday morning was experiencing another full house, as the flea market was in bloom right outside the doors.
Class facilitator Anne Gallagher asked everyone to make room for old and new faces alike.
“You don’t have to know how to limbo, why don’t you come this way,” said regular Ron Shilakes to Carolyn Daniele who was looking for a space to sit. But do the limbo Ms. Daniele did, as she crawled under a table and nestled into a seat.
Every Tuesday for eight years this class has been offered at Featherstone, growing from three students to as many as 20 students each week. The class’ namesake, Tom Maley, led a life drawing class for 30 years at his home. When he died, the participants continued using his home as a meeting place until it was sold after the death of his wife.
Ms. Gallagher, who had come to his class for the last five years of its existence, wanted to continue the tradition and brought it to Featherstone.
Rather than tell the class how to sketch a particular body part or how individuals could improve their art, Ms. Gallagher recalled Mr. Maley hosted a laid back, informal group with no specific instruction. She hoped to create the same atmosphere at Featherstone.
“I wanted it to be a place where beginners could come, where students could come and where professional artists could come. And when they get to the class, I tell them to just loosen up and have a good time. Make stick figures if you want, just have fun.”
If she’s not lending out pencils or passing out cookies, Ms. Gallagher sits with the rest of the group, sketching along.
“Every pose is a challenge,” said Ms. Gallagher. “It’s not like painting a rose, because once you’ve done a rose it can be any rose. Every body is different. Every pose is different. It’s a tremendous challenge. And if you’re an artist, you love the challenge.”
Allen Whiting took a piece of charcoal and with his hand made squiggles throughout the page, skating around like a dancer, with a swirl here and there. A few minutes later the scribbles were filled with smooth, solidifying charcoal marks and a dark, elegant face stared off the page.
Just then the 10-minute alarm rang and Mr. Whiting sighed, looking down at his sketch. “I ended up with an adolescent male,” he laughed. “This is really hard, actually.”
The class is broken up into various intervals, one minute or 10 or 15 or even 20, to give the model a rest and to allow for new poses to sketch.
During the break Ms. Nunes stretched, while the artists cracked their knuckles and crossed their legs from one side to the other before settling once again in their seats for Ms. Nunes’ next pose.
“Ron, why don’t you pick a pose?” suggested Ms. Gallagher.
“Oh no, it’s too much pressure,” Mr. Shilakes joked.
“How about I stand on my head,” said Ms. Nunes, laughing.
“You can see how the whole class gets into the act,” Ms. Gallagher whispered. Speaking up again, she said “Hey, why don’t you drop the robe?”
“Drop the robe?” Ms. Nunes asked. She had been wearing a silky black robe open and hanging off of her shoulders. The robe fell quietly to the ground.
“Oh, wow. Perfect. Thank you,” Ms. Gallagher said.
The sun shined on the tips of Ms. Nunes’ shoulders, creating shadows along the muscles of her back. Using pencils, charcoal or pen, the 18 artists created completely different interpretations of the same model. Virginia Gosselin daintily drew in her book, starting with the model’s face and moving on to the shoulders.
“It’s such a gift to us to be able to come here,” she said of the class. “We are all kindred spirits, and Anne just gives so much.”
Down the row Jim Spanfeller held his pen loosely and gently. “Most of the time the models aren’t pleased with what I do to them,” he chuckled. His work is whimsical and unique — twists and tangles creating cheek bones and shoulders.
In the corner sat relative newcomer Kathy Deflice-Secor, wearing an oversized turquoise shirt that flowed back and forth as she glided her arm across her large sketchbook. She worked steadily and quietly. At the end of class she carefully packed up her things. While thanking Ms. Gallagher and Ms. Nunes on her way out the door, she showed the two of them her work, unfolding her book to reveal grand charcoal strokes and soft shadows shaping a graceful, mysterious character.
“Oh my goodness. Oh wow. That’s incredible,” said Ms. Nunes. “Who are you?”
“Just a big fan of the figure,” said Ms. Deflice-Secor.
“I wish I looked that good,” Ms. Nunes said as she leaned closer to the book. “And I wish I could do this.”
“It’s a partnership, it really is,” said Ms. Deflice-Secor. “For the lack of a better word, you’re our muse. You inspire us.”
Ms. Deflice-Secor, who borrows her husband’s fishing truck to come out to Featherstone, explained that the relaxed and natural rhythm of the class is what she enjoys. Before leaving, she insisted that Ms. Nunes keep one of the sketches for herself.
“That’s what makes it all,” Ms. Gallagher said. “When someone like that shows up. Just wow . . . The class is open to anyone, and that’s the way I like it.”