World artists hone their crafts in Santa Fe

They study photography, pottery, or writing

John Beckett of Phoenix has worked as a photographer for 30 years, and when he heard that nature photographer Eddie Soloway was offering a class in Santa Fe, N.M., this summer, he jumped at the opportunity to further improve his skills.

"I wanted to renew my passion for the work," Mr. Beckett explains. "I wanted to be more creative and just play with photography." Drawn by Mr. Soloway's expertise - as well as Santa Fe's colorful vistas - Beckett signed up for the class through Santa Fe Workshops, a program that draws 1,500 people each year to its week-long photography and digital-imaging courses.

While Santa Fe has long lured visitors to its Chamber Music Festival or to raft the Rio Grande, the city has also become popular with thousands of photographers, artists, writers, and teachers who attend a variety of workshops. In addition to Santa Fe Workshops, courses are offered through Santa Fe Clay, the Santa Fe Art Institute, and the Southwest Literary Center of Recursos de Santa Fe.

Students come from all across the United States and from as far away as Egypt and Bulgaria. And whether they're seeking to polish their watercolor techniques or write an award-winning novel, they share an eagerness to interact with top people in their field and compare ideas with peers who possess a passion for beauty and craftsmanship.

Shirley Smithson, an elementary school teacher from Greeley, Colo., has been working with clay for four years. She spent a week in Santa Fe at the potter's wheel under the direction of noted ceramist Silvie Granatelli. "I was looking for someone who teaches functional pottery because I see that as a way to share something beautiful with others," says Ms. Smithson. One of her classmates, Cynthia Schultz of Sacramento, Calif., is a high school art teacher who says she now has "tons of ideas" to take back to her students.

"Almost everything I've learned has been a new experience," says Ms. Schultz, adding that prior educators taught her rote methods for making pottery, but Granatelli provides a philosophical basis for every decision.

Both women were pleased by the responsiveness of Santa Fe Clay to students' needs. The center has grown steadily over seven years and now offers week-long workshops from mid-June to mid-August, says Avra Leodas, co-owner of Santa Fe Clay.

"We work very hard to find a range of instructors, from newcomers who are just making a name for themselves to some of the most established professionals in the business," she says.

Opportunities for artists-in-residence

Equipped with large, well-lit studios and dorm space, the Santa Fe Art Institute, located on the campus of the College of Santa Fe, offers residencies year-round aimed at serious artists who want to work intensively with prominent, avant-garde artists. They run from one- to four-weeks long. Visiting artists have included notables like Richard Diebenkorn, Susan Rothenberg, and Aaron Fischle. This fall, minimalist sculptor Ann Truitt will be featured.

The residencies, which are limited to 12 students each, are described as being more like "graduate-level independent study" than the usual workshop. Participants get an extraordinary opportunity to work with these mentor artists both in group sessions and through one-on-one critiques.

Sandra Delgado, a young woman from Miami, has just earned a second degree in photography, but she's eager to branch out.

She enrolled in Photoshop I and II. For almost 30 hours each week, Ms. Delgado sat in a dark room in front of an Apple G-4 computer, listening to an instructor while she tried out new techniques.

"It's wonderful," Delgado says. "I wish all my classes had been like this."

Point and click

Nature photographer Soloway asks his 16 students to each take a white cutout frame as they position themselves around a tree. Then they look at the tree through their frames, each from a different angle.

"Now I want you describe what you see in two words," Soloway says. The students respond with adjectives like "threatening," "regal," "bushy," "ethereal."

Soloway nods. "I'm trying to get all of you to see how many ways one object can be viewed so you don't get stuck into just taking the standard postcard shot of everything you see." To emphasize his point, Soloway herds the class back inside and shows them slides illustrating how some great photographers and artists portrayed "tree-ness."

The next day, most of the group will be rising at 4:30 a.m. to try to capture in their lens the light at Tsankawi, an ancient Indian ruin near Bandalier National Monument. All the film they shoot is developed each night and critiqued in class the next day.

The popularity of Santa Fe Workshops is not surprising considering the beautiful location in Southwest-style buildings off Old Santa Fe Trail, plus a top-notch cadre of instructors, says public-relations coordinator Marty Swanson.

Articulating their art

The Southwest Literary Center has a select number of week-long offerings year-round. Trish Crapo of Leyden, Mass., was attracted to one of them, the Southwest Writer's Conference, as much for the chance to spend time in Santa Fe as for the chance to study writing. Another lure was this summer's instructor, Bob Shacochis, a novelist and journalist. "I write fiction and non-fiction and want to better understand the difference between the two," Ms. Crapo says.

In fact, when all these avid photographers, artists, writers, teachers, and potters leave Santa Fe, instead of packing an opera program or a piece of artwork in their luggage, they hope to be carrying home shiny new ideas.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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