By Debbie Hovanasian
LOWELL -- When local artist and teacher Meredith Fife Day was a child, her mother would put her down for a nap. Except in her case, she didn't nap. She'd pull her mattress away from the wall and etch drawings with a two-pronged hair clip into the plaster wall. Nap time became art time in her mind.
Using only her imagination, she had created a tableau of children and animals before the pin found its way into an electrical outlet, resulting in a doctor visit for the young artist. It also unveiled her clandestine work of art to her mother.
Fortunately, her mother handled the situation in a productive way.
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The art lessons were offered at no cost at a Catholic church within the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO). There, among tempera brushes, paint, brushes and boards, she found a world, she said, that she never dreamed she could never enter.
The result: an award-winning, yet humble, artist.
"We weren't even Catholic, but I continued in the program for years and my enthusiasm never waned. If there had been tuition, my parents could not have afforded it," said Fife Day, the former artist-in-residence at Whistler House.
Fife Day, who recently settled into a charming brick-walled art studio in the renovated Gates Block Studios on Market Street, earned a master's degree in fine arts from Boston University after receiving BA and MFA degrees from Louisiana State University.
But her early roots as an artist, in which church meshed with art, have not been forgotten. In fact, it is largely what has driven her for the past two years to work on obtaining a grant that would allow her to offer summer art lessons at a Lowell church to local children whose parents, like her own, would not be able to afford private art lessons.
She was further motivated by the pastor of Christ Church United, the Rev. Peter Lovett, whose outreach to the community is vast and growing, she said. He enthusiastically offered their expansive church hall for summer art lessons if she could obtain a grant.
Her brush with grant writing was a success as she was recently awarded a grant from the Parker Foundation. The result is "Making Art with Artists," and Fife Day, who teaches painting at Middlesex Community College, couldn't be more thrilled.
During her prior experience teaching art to young students, "I could see the kids blossoming, even the tough kids who said they didn't like art. I would encourage them and it would light a spark.
"Making Art with Artists" is a seven-week summer program offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays at no cost at Christ Church United on East Merrimack Street. The first session takes place during four weeks in July and the second session over three weeks in August. Age boundaries are flexible, with emphasis on fourth- to eighth-graders, she said.
The program facilitates the teaching of art to under-resourced and under-served children, Fife Day said. The four teachers are experienced, working artists who will make a presentation of their own work to the students in two successive classes.
On board to lead the classes are Mary Hart, calligrapher and graphic designer; Dan Rocha, three-dimensional sculptures; Sharon Silverman, art teacher, professional painter and photographer; and Susan Stranc, printmaker and painter with a background in teaching children.
One of the program's goals is for the children to adapt the techniques of the artists in order to make their own artwork as well as collaborative artwork, using their own and combined imaginations, Fife Day explained. It also aims to give children a positive alternative to high-risk behavior by giving them high quality educational opportunities that equal those available to children of more privileged circumstances, she said.
Fife Day has also designed the program with parents in mind. If her early roots studying art at a church have influenced "Making Art with Artists," so have her years as a single mother to her son, Rand, and daughter, Alene. She remembers well the transportation and child-care dilemma that parents, especially working single parents, face with half-day programs.
"Making Art for Artists" runs from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. Fife Day is currently seeking community donors -- food or funds -- for a lunch program, which she plans to offer free of charge to the budding artists, a cost not covered within the grant.
The day is structured so that the students work on individual projects in the morning and group projects in the afternoon. There's also yoga after lunch and free time early morning and late afternoon, during which Fife Day is exploring having musicians and other volunteers willing to donate their time to entertain or supervise the children.
"It's about giving the children hope and letting them have fun believing in themselves, knowing that the next day can be as much fun as this one," she said. "It's totally laying the groundwork for a future of loving life and not being afraid."
Anyone wishing to donate to the program, volunteer, or in need of more information should contact Fife Day at email@example.com.