By Robert Blood
[Editor’s note: The following interview was culled from conversations with Pamela Lopez-Davies and Deanna Matson, the former of whom is the High Desert Artists communications director and the latter of whom is a new member of the group. Contact the High Desert Artists via their Facebook Page, High Desert Artists Inc.]
What can you tell us about the High Desert Artists?
Matson: The group has been active in Chino Valley as a nonprofit for 30 years. Right now, we have artists that represent painting — oil, acrylic, water color —and artists who draw, who create fine art, and who make jewelry. The goal of the group is to continue volunteer work to teach seniors how to paint at the Chino Valley Senior Center. We also do community outreach and have small grants for local nonprofit agencies. Right now we have 23 members, and another goal is to grow that number. Over the past 30 years, that number has changed. We’re looking for photographers, people who work with computer graphics, crafters, quilters, sculptors, and, really, all the arts and crafts are welcome in the group. The dues are $24 per year, and a family can join for $40. Meetings are on Saturdays.
Lopez-Davies: There’s a business portion to the meetings. Sometimes there are activities or demonstrations by local artists. We talk about upcoming activities and shows. An example of one of those is our annual arts and crafts show at the Chino Valley Senior Center at the end of October. We sometimes go on field trips to galleries in Sedona or Phoenix. Last year we went to Wickenburg to see the “Cowgirl Up” exhibit. And, of course, sometimes we also get together to create art. Occasionally, at a meeting, we’ll print our paints and all paint together and we can help one another with whatever issues or questions we might be having.
How did you first get involved?
Lopez-Davies: I moved here from California in 2011 and was looking for things to do around Chino Valley. I visited the senior center and found out they had these painting classes through the High Desert Artists. Having been an artist in the past, I started going to the classes and eventually joined the group and became secretary of the group. I was elected the president the following year. For me, it was just a matter of trying to get back into art and painting. … I was glad to see something that I could do that drew on my own experiences. I’ve enjoyed being part of the group and have held several offices, and today I’m the communications chair and on the board. Today, we have about 25 members and we’ve been around since 1985.
Matson: I just started making jewelry this past year, in 2016. I was looking for ways to be involved in the community and also just wanted to offer my products for sale. So, I locate the group and reached out to Pam and Judy, found out they accepted folks who did that, and became a member.
But why this group, specifically?
Matson: Well, they’re close to my home. I live in Prescott and was interested in what they were doing and in marketing my product to the Tri-City area. Whenever they have an event or a meeting, they’re supporting those outreach grants. Also, as an artist, I’m interested in learning about other members’ craft. I love that this group teaches painting classes at the senior center. Because the members have the opportunity to display their work at the Chino Valley Library, the High Desert Artists offer a great way to connect with other artists. There’s a social aspect to all of this, too. We learn from each other. For the holidays, there was a potluck and a nice evening of socializing. They’re an open group, and everyone is welcome. There are no prerequisites to attend a meeting or participate in a show.
Why start creating art now?
Matson: I’ve wanted to make jewelry for many years. Any time I saw an opportunity like a class, I always had a personal conflict. Finally, I saw a non-credit class listed at Yavapai College in June, took that beginning class, then took the consecutive intermediate class. Once I started, I couldn’t stop doing it. I make my jewelry from repurposed, reused, and upcycled items. I buy different kinds of costume jewelry and I tear it apart. I also take other things like purses, luggage, and a lot of different things that inspire me. I don’t have a particular style I stick with. I look at it kind of like clothing design where the designs are different and unique, not just one particular thing.
Why is art for seniors important?
Lopez-Davies: It’s a way for them to interact with other seniors. It keeps them physically and mentally active. And it helps maintain an artistic community.
Matson: It’s always good to keep your mind engaged, and, also, art can be very therapeutic. I’ve worked in healthcare for 25 years and I’ve worked in facilities with professionals who all say the same thing: Music and art can make a difference. … I know art can be therapeutic, firsthand. When you sit down and you’re in the moment, time kind of stands still. You get lost in creativity and forget the world around you. At the end, you’ve got a product to show for it.
How are the classes structured and who exactly are they for?
Lopez-Davies: The painting classes are primarily for seniors since they take place at the Chino Valley Senior Center. Some of them are past artists, like myself, who’ve worked a long time and didn’t have time for their painting, so they’re getting back into it. Some of them are first-timers who just want something to do, to learn a few new things. We welcome everyone. It’s usually a pretty lively group. Last month, we painted our own versions of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” It’s a fun process and we try to learn a different artistic principal every month.
So, Pamela, you’ve gone from attending the class to joining the group to teaching classes?
Lopez-Davies: Yes. We have about four instructors who take turns teaching every month. Sometimes we all do the same thing, but sometimes it’s free style and the teacher is there to help people achieve whatever it is they’re trying to achieve. All of the instructors are members of the High Desert Artists, though the students are not. They each pay a small fee, $3, for the class which covers materials, supplies, and instruction.
Why have the High Desert Artists set up as a group separate from the classes?
Lopez-Davies: As a 501(C)(3), we’re required to have some outreach to the community, and the classes are one of our programs that do that. We also donate money to other organizations, including to the Chino Valley Senior Center, who support and house our classes. We also have funds available for scholarships for younger people, too. … We’re here to support each other and to support the community at large in an artistic way.
Contact the High Desert Artists via their Facebook Page, High Desert Artists Inc., or email Pamela Lopez-Davies, communications chair, directly at PCLD@Q.Com.
Robert Blood is a Mayer-ish-based freelance writer and ne’er-do-well who’s working on his last book, which, incidentally, will be his first. Contact him at BloodyBobby5@Gmail.Com.