Fresh art, chip art, silly art

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 7, 2018

By Susan Shinn Turner for The Salisbury Post

Barbara Allen has fallen in love with Rowan County.

Allen is founder and president of Fresh Artists, a Philadelphia-based non-profit program that provides art supplies to underfunded schools. Through Fresh Artists, children’s art has the opportunity to make its way into corporate collections.

Local art teachers learned about Silly City and Chip Art in a recent workshop led by Fresh Artists. North Rowan Middle School has been a pilot program for Fresh Artists. Organizers now want to expand the program throughout Rowan County schools.

Fresh Artists has launched a pilot program with North Rowan Middle School, and the program is slowly spreading to the rest of the county. This marks the first time that Fresh Artists has partnered with schools in a more rural setting.

In late November, Allen and Robyn Miller, senior Fresh Artists fellow, came to Rowan County to conduct a workshop for the county’s art teachers at Waterworks Visual Arts Center. Allen can’t come up with enough superlatives to describe their visit.

“It was phenomenal,” Allen says. “We had the most extraordinary experience. It was magic. We weren’t prepared for the hospitality and the fun. It seemed like everyone in town knew we were coming. I have never experienced true Southern hospitality. I was just blown away.”

Students at North Rowan Middle School have created art for the Silly City program they hope will ultimately be installed on aluminum panels at the N.C. Transportation Museum.

The connection to Fresh Artists came about when Kimberly Lentz was purchasing artwork for the new youth center at St. John’s Lutheran Church. At the time, Lentz was serving as children’s minister. She’s also retired from North Rowan High School after a long career there as media assistant.

Sherry Mason Brown, a fellow St. John’s member and interior designer, was assisting with the project. She knew about Fresh Artists through another designer.

“The more we read about it, the more we thought this was ideal for Rowan County,” Lentz says.

During summer 2015, Brown and Lentz, along with Lentz’s daughter, Meredith Williams, then principal of North Middle, and Leigh Ann Alexander, the school’s art teacher, paid their own way to Philadelphia to learn more about Fresh Artists.  Brown returned to Philadelphia in March.

Since then, North Rowan Middle students have raised money for art supplies through Fresh Artists’ Pablo’s Art Sale. After two showings at OctoberTour in 2016 and 2017, the students raised a total of $700. Because of Fresh Artists’ buying power, the money for supplies goes even farther.

In order to expand the program, Brown and Lentz wanted the rest of the county’s art teachers to learn about it. Because children’s art is enlarged for the corporate art program, there are certain techniques art teachers need to teach. Thus the visit from Allen and Miller.

The teachers met at Waterworks to learn about two Fresh Artists programs: Chip Art and Silly City. Chip Art uses paint chips donated by Behr to create gorgeous, mosaic-like artwork. Silly City invites students to translate the towns and cities around them into artwork on cardboard, which is then digitized and placed on large aluminum panels.

“The atmosphere in the studio was exciting and bustling with creativity,” says Anne Scott Clement, Waterworks executive director. “I had the pleasure to drop in to see, firsthand, everyone busily creating their mosaics and their interpretations of local architecture. The talent I witnessed in that one classroom was awe-inspiring! Works created during the workshops were displayed in a pop-up exhibition in the Waterworks’ galleries that evening during the public reception.

“It is wonderful being around people who are so passionate about what they do. This is evident with Barbara and Robyn. The two projects they presented are easy to replicate and adapt to any age classroom. Together they have created an organization and hands-on experiences that have changed lives and communities.”

“My fellow art teachers loved the workshop,” Alexander says, “and they loved the fact that the supplies are inexpensive. Each teacher did an example of both projects. It’s great to see what you could complete in two hours.”

Alexander says the workshop was like “a day at the spa” for art teachers. “Everything was done for us. Lunch was catered in. It was nice to have a day to focus on those two projects.”

Alexander is eager to see the Fresh Artists programs expand in Rowan County.

“It’s been really good for our students to see and learn about our town,” she says. “It was a great history lesson for our kids as well.”

Brown and Lentz envision that the first Silly City panels will be installed at the N.C. Transportation Museum.

North Middle students have already been to the museum. Beth Nance, owner of the Spencer Doll and Toy Museum, donated a trolley for the outing, and the driver donated his time because he was so impressed with the students. The students took pictures on their iPads, and then went back to class and created artwork based on what they saw. They also learned more about the community in which they live.

“When we took the students out,” Lentz says, “we spoke to our neighbors. It really brought the school and the community together.”

Brown and Lentz are now in the process of raising funds to get the panels produced for the transportation museum.

To learn more about Fresh Artists, visit To learn more about the local Fresh Artists program, contact

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