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Investment in Art Pays Rich Dividends to Community

November 16, 1986|GERALD FARIS | Times Staff Writer

RANCHO PALOS VERDES — Virginia Wyper is a professional artist who took up printmaking a few years ago and spends some of her time teaching that skill to others.

Mildred Walker helped start the El Camino College art department in 1947 and taught art history and drawing until she retired in 1980.

Don Fitzgerald, a retired Navy commander, was an insurance man when a heart attack four years ago prompted him to "quit everything" and become an amateur oil painter.

All have found something to draw them--as teachers or students--to the Palos Verdes Community Arts Assn., which has been making its mark on the Peninsula art scene since 1931, when it was founded in a single room at the Malaga Cove Library in Palos Verdes Estates.

Built Decade Ago

More than a decade ago, the association began building its hillside center at Crestridge Road and Crenshaw Boulevard. The facility is part art museum, part art school and part social center with a spacious patio, restaurant-caliber kitchen and panoramic view. "The people of this community decided that arts were part of their lives and that it should have an art center that is community supported," said Maudette M. Ball, executive director.

On a random visit to the center, one can observe a small group studying French, an art teacher in earnest discussion with a student, a roomful of students sketching a live model and a few people leisurely browsing through the gift shop, where ceramics and fabrics crafted by students are among the items on sale.

The more than 50 classes range from ceramics, painting and drawing to languages, classic films, photography and cooking--everything from Mexican and Southwest food to chocolate. There are special Saturday seminars covering such subjects as marketing art and producing videos.

In the "Art at Your Fingertips" program, trained volunteers take art to classrooms on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, as well as Manhattan Beach and Redondo Beach. School teachers are also brought to the center to learn more about art so they can incorporate it into their teaching.

Need for Program

"There is a need for this because schools can't afford to teach the arts the way they would like to," Ball said, adding that an information packet is being prepared in response to about 60 inquiries on the program.

The school arts program always has a theme, and a recent one was art in nature in which youngsters painted their favorite animals. An annual children's art show fills the main gallery with vividly colored, primitive and amusing images of reality as a child sees it.

Ball said the center tries to gear itself to the interests of Peninsula residents, and to reflect changes--including the growth in the Asian population. This is a high-tech community, she said, and the center recently staged an exhibit of neon art. A current show, "Print In/Print Out," presents traditional prints alongside techniques utilizing computer graphics. Next spring, there will be a Japanese folk art exhibit.

The kitchen, which would do justice to the best of restaurants, has permitted the center to attract the Peninsula's growing foreign population through events built around the foods of different countries. Some of these people have returned to enroll their children in classes. "Foods are a non-threatening and comfortable way to get a real cross section of the community," Ball said. "The women are corporate wives and they have no, or limited, English. They enjoy sharing their native cultures and dishes."

Accomplished Artist

Wyper, a professional artist who has had shows in the center gallery and had a painting accepted last year in national competition, first came to the center four years ago and took classes. She went on to teach printmaking, which she continues to do every Friday. She said the equipment in the print studio is first-class and teaching there is exciting. "The students are doing some very interesting work," she said.

When Walker started teaching at the center two years ago, she said it was easy to pick up where she left off at El Camino. Walker said most of her drawing students are older adults who pursue art as a hobby, although many have had professional training and have come back to renew their skills.

"They work very hard," she said, and some are outstanding. Their painting styles are fairly conservative. "At that age, you don't find way-out people," she said. "They do landscapes and figures."

Fitzgerald, who just turned 70, gives credit to the Palos Verdes center for turning him into an oil painter, although he said he had been interested in art since he was art editor of his high school newspaper.

Oil Landscapes

After a naval career, Fitzgerald went into the insurance business. But his heart attack convinced him that he "didn't have to make money anymore" and he discovered the art center and a new role as a amateur landscape painter.

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