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Community News : Art Program Spawns Etchings of Self-Esteem : Education: Living Masters course through Los Angeles Children's Museum provides classical drawing and painting instruction for talented youths.

January 20, 1994|JAMES BENNING | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

About the only things Eddie Smith III found interesting in high school were the battling robots he doodled on his homework. Unimpressed, his teachers fired back with barely passing marks.

But all that changed when the struggling Westchester High School junior was accepted into the Herbert D. Ryman Living Masters art program, which offers classical drawing and painting classes through the Los Angeles Children's Museum.

Smith soon learned the art of success. Surprising his teachers, he got serious about his schoolwork, pulling his grades up to a B average and working long hours on drawing techniques.

"The program helped me discover how good I really was," said Smith, 19, a sophomore art student at Cal State San Bernardino. "It made me consider a career in art."

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Free to high school students, the Living Masters program was established in 1990 to honor Ryman, a Disney artist who died in 1989.

Professional artists teach the classes, which meet for 12 Saturdays at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. To persuade skeptical students that they can have a career in art, teachers bring students face to face with professional artists from Southern California.

Students learn to sketch exactly what they see. That means spending plenty of time drawing, refining lines and reworking shadows.

"It's hard work, and they sometimes want to just break their pencils," program director Marshall Ayers said. To cover the program's nearly $100,000 in annual costs, administrators draw from a fund established by Ryman's colleagues, friends and family after his death. Ryman worked on Disneyland's original concept drawings, which helped sell the project to New York investors.

Administrators limit class sizes to 15 students.

Gardena High School junior Tanea Richardson, one of the South Bay students in the program, will take the advanced class next month.

Holding a self-portrait she sketched while studying her reflection in the mirror, Richardson paints a pretty picture of the program. "It's great. If something is wrong with your work, they'll tell you exactly what's wrong," she said. "If the ear is too big, they'll tell you the ear is too big."

Like many of the program's students, Richardson is on the go. She is a cheerleader and earns straight A's. She sometimes drags herself out of bed at 4 a.m. on Saturdays to finish art projects.

For Hawthorne High School senior Alondra Villacorta, 17, art offers a way to express a tumultuous past. Fleeing the war in El Salvador, Villacorta and her family moved to Hawthorne three years ago.

One of her drawings, a colorful picture of an infant side-by-side with a skeleton in the comforting palm of a hand, offers a glimpse into her past.

Another area student, Jason Aldava, 15, said his view of art changed after several weeks in the beginning class last fall.

"For the first time I really started thinking about art as a possible career," said Aldava, an Inglewood resident who takes honors classes at a magnet school in Los Angeles.

Aldava's bedroom walls are lined with Disney posters. He said a Living Masters field trip to the Disney art studios in Glendale fueled his desire to work for the company.

"It was just like walking into Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory and seeing the miracles come to life," he said. "It really made me want to do that."

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