Mispillion Art League re-sculpts classes for COVID-19 era

Art teacher Cathy Walls explains to her student Bob Life the different color spectra during the Senior Art Workshop at Mispillion Art League in Milford last week. (Special to the Delaware State News/Ariane Mueller)

MILFORD — COVID-19 has painted over a lot of events in Milford, but the Mispillion Art League has continued its classes through the pandemic, even as the organization has had to rework its offerings.

Sonja Frey, the organization’s co-chairwoman, said the league was able to resume in-person courses when Gov. John Carney began Phase 2 of Delaware’s coronavirus response June 15. But earlier in the pandemic, things were challenging.

“We had to either cancel or reschedule a whole bunch of classes,” Ms. Frey said. “We did offer three classes by Zoom until we were able to return to holding classes in here.”

She said the organization “tried to hold just as many as we could possibly hold. But we did have to completely cancel a number of them, (including) ones where instructors didn’t feel comfortable coming back or we didn’t have enough students signed up.”

But now, classes are back in session, even if they don’t look the same as they did before.

“We’re doing everything we possibly can following guidelines,” Ms. Frey said. “Each student has their own table, masks are required, the tables are cleaned and disinfected before and after each class, as well as light switches and door handles and all that good stuff.”

Art teacher Cathy Walls shows her Senior Art Workshop students how to properly dilute the watercolors.

Ms. Frey said MAL’s patrons are happy that in-person classes are back.

“We had a number of members who wanted us to open up classes sooner than we did because I think they wanted to get out of the house,” Ms. Frey said.

Last week, retired Milford resident Bob Life was one of about a half-dozen who showed up at the art league for a senior workshop on watercolors. He’d taken a pottery class there before the pandemic, but knew this one would be different.

“We will each be at one table, we’ll be wearing masks, and everyone will have their own supplies,” he said. “It sounds like it should be pretty safe.”

Mr. Life did express some anxiety about the virus, but ultimately felt reassured that he would be surrounded by other seniors.

“I’m just worried about if others don’t practice social distancing and so forth, but my guess is most people will probably be seniors like myself and they’re concerned about catching the virus, so it should be a safe place to work today,” he said.

Charlotte Goren, also of Milford, was happy to be back for in-person classes, too, but said that this new era of MAL offerings had a different feel.

“Everyone has an individual table instead of before when it was sort of family-style,” she said. “With the other classes, there was more sharing and kind of a community sort of thing.”

Ms. Frey said these in-person offerings could become less frequent in the future.

Art teacher Cathy Walls discusses with student Bob Life the color mixing techniques at the Senior Art Workshop at Mispillion Art League last week.

“We are applying for a grant right now that will help us get some equipment to be able to offer classes online more consistently if that kind of becomes more normal,” she said. “That way we can have quality equipment, so our classes are still up to a high standard.”

Mr. Life appreciated the options services like Zoom offer during a pandemic.

“With the classes where you wear a mask, you don’t really get to see people’s faces too much. With Zoom, you get to see people’s faces and interact,” he said. “It’s, I think, the best alternative we have right now to gathering for a class.”

But Mr. Life also said it is challenging to hold art classes electronically.

“Zoom is different in that it’s not as interactive,” he said. “For a lot of educational purposes, I’m sure it works fine, but for something where you’re working with your hands, it’s probably better to have something in person.”

Dr. Rick Pescatore, the Delaware Department of Public Health’s chief physician, said it was both “wise and safe” to have in-person events for senior citizens like the one the MAL held.

“If it was a socially distanced event with proper face-covering utilization, I am in complete support of activities like that,” he said. “Social distancing does not mean emotional distancing, and activity and engagement and making adjustments so that people can enjoy things that are important to them is absolutely outstanding.”

Art teacher Cathy Walls discusses the primary color selection with her student Kim Tiller.

Jen Brestel, the Department of Public Health’s media relations coordinator, added: “It’s very important that our senior population is staying mobile, that they’re staying active and that they’re also staying engaged. We don’t want to push against that as long as it’s being done in a safe way.”

Overall, Mr. Life holds the MAL in high regard.

“I was surprised when I came here that there was something of this magnitude in Milford, because they offer so many different classes and there’s just a wide variety of instructors,” Mr. Life said.

Ms. Goren agreed.

“They do a lot,” she said. “This is a simple class, but they have other classes that are ongoing, much more complicated, much more intense learning. You can really learn a lot from what they offer here.

“They have this wonderful art gallery which shows these original works from local artists, which is great.”

Art Teacher Cathy Walls instructs her student Kim Tiller how to dilute watercolors in a proper way.

Ms. Frey said the pandemic has been a difficult time for the volunteer-powered art league.

“I’m the only paid employee, and I’m only part time. So instead of being open five days a week, we’re down to four days a week,” she said. “I am pretty much the only one holding down the fort because a lot of our volunteers are older and just aren’t comfortable coming back into a public setting like this at this point.”

But there have been bright spots, as well.

“Because of the Lions Club, we were able to offer all of our summer children’s classes for free,” Ms. Frey said. “Every class filled up.”

The senior art workshop Aug. 21 was MAL’s final event for August, but Ms. Frey said the organization is coming back full force in September. She is looking forward to Big Draw Festival, which MAL will host again for the entire month of October.

“It’ll be very different than last year. We won’t be able to hold all the outdoor events, but we want to keep art in front of people’s eyes and hands but not put people in danger,” Ms. Frey said. “We will have some in-person classes, but we’ll be creating a little art kit that people can take home and create artwork there.”

The Mispillion Art League is at 5 N. Walnut St. in Milford. For more information on the art league, visit mispillionarts.org.