Long the subject of artists’ study, admiration and critique, California missions serve as wonderful examples of distinct period architecture, beautiful foliage and religious symbolism. Thanks to the artistic talents of Sweetwater Adult School students, the 21 missions, and their artistic relevance, currently occupy center stage in the new Bonita Museum and Cultural Center’s “California Missions” display. The exhibit features water color and acrylic paintings by students from the Chula Vista, National City and Montgomery Adult Schools along with a brief history of each mission.
“The ‘Missions of California’ exhibit showcases the diverse talents that our Adult School students possess,” said Sweetwater Board President Arlie Ricasa.
“The art show and on-going exhibit are fine examples of effective collaboration that our district is striving for through our community partnerships,” said Dr. Jesus Gandara, Sweetwater Superintendent. “We appreciate the support shown by the Bonita Museum in displaying these paintings from our life-long learners.”
Starting in January, Adult School instructor Judy Helton worked with her art students on their depictions of the missions. Her class demonstrations centered on technique for painting architectural buildings and elements that would likely be in every painting foliage, color and perspective.
“The idea for the missions project came from Richard Pena, of the Star News, who is in the Friday art class,” said Helton, an instructor for Sweetwater Adult School since 1988. “Richard had done an earlier project with the missions at the New Bonita Museum and he asked me about doing something with the missions for the Adult School art classes.”
Helton found an eager and receptive audience when she approached her students with the idea. Five classes have participated in the project with students completing one, two and even three paintings of selected missions.
“I painted the San Fernando Mission because I liked that it was full of flowers,” said Yvonne Orona, a student in Helton’s Monday watercolor class. “It was really neat to paint. All the missions are really neat. How could you not want to paint them?”
To provide even more incentive to her students, Helton arranged for a juried art show prior to the opening of the exhibit. She asked her students to submit an entry that would be judged by their peers and professional artists. From these submissions, selected paintings would be chosen for the current display. For many students, the art show would be the first time their art would be shown publicly.
“It is exciting and a bit of pressure,” said Rosalva Pena, who had signed up for the class only four weeks earlier. “I’ve invited friends to come see my paintings. It is nice to be participating.”
For one student, the missions art show represented another opportunity to showcase her considerable artistic talent. Norma Herrera started her foray into painting in oils years ago and has now spent nearly six years with watercolors. During this time, she enjoyed an art exhibit of her paintings and hand-made cards at the local library.
“It was very successful,” Herrera said. “In the end, I sold 12 pieces from an exhibit of about 25 paintings. I was shocked.”
As an experienced artist, Herrera finds the Adult School art classes appeal to her for a variety of reasons.
“I come to paint and hang out with my friends,” she explained. “I always learn something new and it is a great way to spend my day off.”
Anita Chateau learned about the Adult School art class when she received a promotional flyer. She had retired from her position as an elementary school teacher in June and in September she was enrolled in her first class. That was 2004.
“This is a great retirement hobby,” Chateau said. “I used to assist in painting sets for our school plays, but this is very different. The class is designed for people 50 years and over, and this show gives us a chance to demonstrate what we can do.”
The judges were certainly impressed by the former educator’s artistic talent as Chateau’s painting of the mission at San Luis Obispo took home first place in the juried art show. Soon Ja Chung was awarded second place for her painting of the San Gabriel Mission, while Shizue Winblad’s painting of the Mission San Diego de Alcala won third place. “Most Original Creativity” went to Elaine Lones for her work on the Mission San Carlos Borremeo. The show drew more than 350 guests.
The current exhibit at the community museum fully illustrates the mastery these Sweetwater Adult School students have achieved through their intense study of architectural painting techniques. Helton hopes that is only the start of what the public takes away from viewing these paintings.
“I want the public to see that these are very active adults with talent,” Helton said. “Their paintings and the display bring to the public eye the talents of older adults striving for perfection in their art.”
More than 25 paintings will remain on display at the museum until April 7th. The display is open to the public.