Eric Freehling Eagle Staff Writer
May 09, 2022 Last Updated: May 09, 2022 10:27 AM Digital Media Exclusive
The back of the Art Center at 344 S. Main St. was quiet except for the brush of charcoal across paper or a quiet word from one of the five artists to another.
The portrait group was meeting again this Wednesday afternoon as it has for more than 30 years.
The subject of their intense scrutiny was Army veteran and Robin’s Home founder and director Mary Chitwood, who was posing for her portrait.
Chitwood had brought along Brooke Mougey, a resident of the home for homeless, unstably housed and low-income female veterans and their children, during Chitwood’s two-hour session with the portrait artists.
Each of the artists was sketching Chitwood in his own medium whether charcoal, acrylic or pastels.
Mougey said she has her own session with the artists scheduled for July 6.
The veterans sitting for portraits is a new wrinkle in the long-time artists’ group. The group usually shares a portrait subject because it’s hard to get people to pose for the two-hour weekly sessions.
Member Terry Hagen said he gave the group the idea to do the portraits of veterans every other Wednesday.
“We’re getting veterans sent to us by the VA,” said Hagen. “We’re getting them booked through June through Robin’s House and Karen Dunn at the VA.”
Dunn, the health promotion and disease prevention program manager at the Butler VA Healthcare System, said after she met Hagen, “We’ve been setting up sessions with veterans. If they are interested and they still have slots they can sign up.”
Dunn said sitting for portraits is part of her approach of using art as therapy for veterans suffering grief, depression and PTSD.
Eventually, Hagen said, the portrait group plans to have a show of its members’ work at the Art Center with a premiere on Nov. 11, Veterans Day.
Hagen said the members of the portrait group will choose one of the portraits as suitable for framing and hang it surrounded by the other artists’ versions of the veteran. The veteran will be able to take the framed picture home.
“The VA is going to help us put the show on. They’ve been very helpful,” he said. He said the group should have had 20 to 22 veterans sitting to be drawn, painted or sketched by multiple artists by the time of the Nov. 11 show.
Jen Spryn of Butler said was rendering Chitwood in charcoal. Spryn said she’s been part of the group for seven years now.
“I think I emailed Terry one year,” said Spryn. “I was curious about what went on down here.”
Marilyn Tynan of Butler said she didn’t want to estimate how long she’d been a member of the group. “I participated before we ever moved to Main Street,” she said. “We used to meet in people’s houses. Different people have run it.”
Tynan said the group usually meets from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. every Wednesday, although the coronavirus pandemic shut down the portraitists’ meetings for awhile, an interruption the group hasn’t recovered from yet.
“We used to have about 10 member show up every week,” said Tynan. “We’re trying to get back to that number. But people move, die or they don’t want to do it anymore.”
Lisa Sten of Prospect said her mother, Romaine Foringer, was a portrait artist. When she died in 1980, Sten said, “She passed the portrait talent on to me along with all of her supplies.”
“I come back because these are my people, and I love to paint from life,” said Sten.
Tynan said the group started because there aren’t that many chances to paint portraits from life.
Hagen said the group’s weekly get-togethers give artists a chance to mentor or be mentored by other members.
Paul Means of Butler said he’s been coming to the portrait group’s meetings for about a year ever since he met Spryn when they both were working on decorating the offices of the Child Advocacy Center.
Tynan said, “You can come down here and be with friends.”
“There’s no other game in town,” said Sten.
“I wasn’t really doing portraits,” said Means. “And my work was really crude. But we push each other to get to that next level. This is the only way to do it. It takes me back to my art school days.”
Dunn said of the veterans posing for a portrait, “It’s a nice way to honor them and they get to take that portrait home after the show.”