At Maureen Marks Arts in Lower Paxton Township, students aren’t expected to create art perfectly.
Instead, owner Maureen Marks encourages her classes to create.
“Art is important to kids because it’s one of the few subjects that has no right or wrong answers,” she said. “Kids need to have that creative part during their development. You need to know there are possibilities.”
After years of teaching art in area public schools, Marks started teaching in her home, then in West Hanover Township. Four years ago, she renovated her current spacious, bright studio on Sunset Avenue in Lower Paxton from a building that once housed offices.
“I’ve been involved with doing art pretty much since birth,” Marks recalled. “My dad wanted me to be an English teacher, but I couldn’t stop making things.”
Maureen Marks Arts offers a wide variety of fall and spring classes each year for ages 3 to adult. Fall sessions usually attract a total of 120 students in all age groups with a “90% to 95% return rate,” she said.
Media instruction ranges from drawing, painting, clay, printmaking, pastel and crafts such as jewelry making.
The facility also offers a variety of public or private art parties and events, as well as several youth camps and “pop-up” events each year. Family paint nights held there are open to ages 8 and up.
Like many area venues, COVID-19 and the state’s pandemic orders have been a major challenge. Last year, the business was forced to close entirely from March through June. When it reopened, class sizes were reduced to meet state social distancing mandates. Masks were required, as well, and parents of students could no longer enter the building.
To further adhere to social distancing mandates, Marks split her 2020 summer art camps into two sessions each. Today, she still conducts classes “doing individual everything” with art supplies. “I’m still trying to separate things,” she said.
Marks also posted instructional project videos online during the pandemic.
“With COVID, everyone turned to art,” she said. “The soul needs this.”
The Hamiltons are one of many families that have joined together for various activities at Maureen Marks Arts.
“Everyone in our family has been involved there at one time or another,” said Elizabeth “Liz” Hamilton, mother of Brooke, 14, Audrey, 10, and Landon, 6. The Lower Paxton Township family started going there in 2016 after a friend recommended it for Brooke’s birthday party.
Elizabeth Hamilton said she often participates in “pop-up classes” with friends or family at Marks Arts, such as holiday painting or watercolor events. Her favorite projects include a Christmas card with a pickup truck illustration, a Valentine gnome and wooden pumpkins made with her children.
“I never really thought of myself as an artist, but Maureen offers so many different materials to work with, and she explains it so well,” Elizabeth said. “I learned to have fun with it and not stress out about making it perfect. It’s fun to remember who we were with for each of the classes. Maureen is a great teacher. It’s been great seeing her giving the kids her knowledge.”
Brooke Hamilton has regularly attended sessions at Marks Arts since her initial birthday party there five years ago. From there, she was inspired to begin crafting her own jewelry at home, according to her mother.
“I’m really glad that Brooke found a craft there that she could take home and run with,” Elizabeth said. “When she’s not reading, she’s downstairs at her art table.”
Brooke, a freshman at Central Dauphin High School, said that she hopes someday to land a job “that has something to do with art.” Her favorite project done with Marks was a tree collage set on canvas using a variety of different materials.
“I liked crafting on my own before this, but she made it really fun and carefree,” Brooke said. “I have two really good friends who go there with me, and you have a lot of time to do things there, like around hour or an hour and a half for each one.”
In turn, Marks said she “loves going to work every day.”
“No two days are the same,” she added.
She also said that she enjoys watching her students grow both in art skills and in life skills.
“Part of kids learning to have self-esteem is working through your mistakes,” she said. “In art, it’s OK to make mistakes.”
Maureen Marks Arts is located at 103 Sunset Ave., Harrisburg. For information, call 717-545-5815 or visit www.maureenmarksarts.com.
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