For many years, while Mario Belvedere lived in New York City, he would return home from his job on Wall Street, take off his gray flannel three-piece suit, crisp white shirt and black shoes and then put on his overalls to paint.
At different points during the day, he would walk down the dirty streets of New York City, car horns honking and bums begging for change, and depending upon the time of day, Belvedere would wear a different mask to the world. Wall Street banker by day and art school student by night — the rotating of masks could sink a saner man into schizophrenia.
“I am crazy,” Belvedere confessed. “I’m not normal otherwise I couldn’t have done what I did.”
Belvedere’s mixed media class, along with a new folk art class taught by Elissa Aleshire and a paper crafts class taught by Shannon Bielke, are part of a newly comprehensive art curriculum that allows people to earn associate’s degrees in art at Payson’s Gila Community College campus.
“I’m excited about it,” said GCC Payson Dean Pamela Butterfield.
“We get so many students who take art classes for their own personal enrichment.” Now, those students wishing for a more in-depth education can find it in Payson.
Most people have some creative inkling, and even those who think they don’t probably do.
Belvedere is a passionate and voluble Italian with a thick accent who lives in Pine and teaches Italian language and art classes at GCC. Part of his class involves unleashing the subconscious spirit that lingers beneath the many masks people don during daily life.
“First of all, nobody’s normal and we all have more than one personality,” Belvedere said. Each personality defines a particular mask. People wear work masks, friend masks, significant other masks and those presented to family.
“The first thing in art,” Belvedere said, is you must be “spontaneous and you have to be fearless. You have to be able to detach from anything else and to be able to express your guts, from your inner, from your subconscious.”
Students will paint with various mediums including acrylics, watercolor and pastels on traditional canvases and also those of burlap and plywood, among others.
“You just express yourself and you wake up, ‘Oh, look what I did.’ You will learn to know yourself,” said Belvedere.
Perhaps that idea is what leads Bielke to enjoy the journey of her craft. She starts in one place, ending up in another — working through mistakes and enjoying the sense of play in which she engages.
Bielke creates shabby chic items like jewelry boxes, photograph frames and trash cans from recycled items like cardboard, scrapbooking paper and various ribbons.
“You kind of take what you’ve got to work with,” said Bielke. One jewelry box is made out of cardboard from a sketch pad’s back. After painting it, she used sandpaper for mottling.
She’ll let the class decide which projects to complete, guided by Bielke’s lifelong passion for crafting. This year, she began designing for the Craft and Hobby Association, hired to craft with new products from different companies. Bielke has also taught scrapbooking classes at a local store.
Creating a craft from scratch involves a higher level of artistic technique than simply re-creating, Bielke said. If somebody “draws Mickey Mouse like nobody’s business,” that’s talent. But is it art?
Creating anew forces people to fill in their own mold instead of cutting cookies.
Basic tools in Bielke’s class involve a ruler, Exacto knife, glue, paint and brushes.
Aleshire’s folk art class also focuses on using recycled products to make art. Folk artists are untrained, or “outsiders.” Ironically, Aleshire gained an appreciation for the untrained tradition while in graduate school at Arizona State University, engaging in the ultimate artist’s education.
“I can never be a folk artist,” Aleshire said. She has too much training. “I wish I was a folk artist.” She is, however, a teacher, appreciator and lover of the quirky medium. Students can work with substances like papier-mache to make masks, work with bottle caps to shape fish, or Popsicle sticks to build a purse.
Aleshire won’t teach foundations of art because that knowledge would destroy folk art’s principles, but she will educate students about some of the more interesting and offbeat folk artists like Martin Ramirez, a Mexican laborer who spent his last three decades in California mental hospitals.
Perhaps Ramirez created because he was insane, or perhaps art soothed his psychotic mind. We’ll never know, but Aleshire says art has calming properties.
“Anything you do with your hands makes you feel good.”
Retirees make the best folk artists, she added. Grandma Moses, for instance, painted her first painting in the early 20th century at 47 years old. When wallpapering her parlor, she ran out of paper and painted a mural on white paper instead. Today it hangs in a Vermont museum. At 76, arthritis forced her to abandon embroidery and she embraced painting with new vigor.
“It’s so refreshing,” Aleshire said about folk art. “It’s so open; it’s so limitless.”
Older people who have perhaps stifled their ideas for years while buried under the constraints of middle age can finally free their impulses.
“I think there should be a lot of folk artists in Payson just waiting for them to come out and be realized,” Aleshire said.
Registration is open until Jan. 22.