December 16, 2004: Headlines: COS - Kenya: Art: Drawing: Writing - Kenya: San Jose Mercury News: Kenya RPCV Peter Steinhart writes "The Undressed Art: Why We Draw"

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Kenya: Peace Corps Kenya : The Peace Corps in Kenya: December 16, 2004: Headlines: COS - Kenya: Art: Drawing: Writing - Kenya: San Jose Mercury News: Kenya RPCV Peter Steinhart writes "The Undressed Art: Why We Draw"

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Kenya RPCV Peter Steinhart writes "The Undressed Art: Why We Draw"

Kenya RPCV Peter Steinhart writes The Undressed Art: Why We Draw

Kenya RPCV Peter Steinhart writes "The Undressed Art: Why We Draw"


By Kimra McPherson

Mercury News

Each Tuesday night, Peter Steinhart stakes out a spot at the drawing table in an open studio in the Palo Alto Art Center.

He unpacks his newsprint pad, his pencils, his pen and ink. For almost three hours, Steinhart -- and as many as 50 others -- sketch drawings of the nude model posing for them. There is no instructor, just the low hum of pen, pencil, charcoal and paint against paper.

Few of the participants are professional artists. Most, like Steinhart, are amateurs who draw for personal satisfaction. A few years ago, Steinhart, a Palo Alto nature writer who has been drawing with the group for years, began to see the seeds of a book in his Tuesday night ritual.

``What are we doing here?'' Steinhart, 61, remembers thinking. ``We're not going to sell this stuff. We're not going to become famous doing this stuff. We can't even give this stuff away.''

His book, ``The Undressed Art: Why We Draw'' was published by Knopf in June. Earlier this month, the New York Times named it one of the 100 notable books of 2004.

Steinhart's book chronicles what he calls a renaissance of drawing among amateurs who arrange figure-drawing groups at universities, studios and even living rooms around the country. In the Bay Area alone, Steinhart has counted as many as 80 groups, many of which are represented in his book through interviews with artists or models.

The Palo Alto group is unusual, he said, both because of its age and its size. Stories abound about the group's origins, but most people agree it started about 40 years ago. On a given Tuesday, it can attract as many as 50 people -- so many that they can't all fit around the drawing tables surrounding the model's stand.

The group is listed in Palo Alto's catalog of community activities, but it is not a class. It is open to the public and requires no advance registration. Artists contribute $5 to pay the model and can stay for as much of the session as they choose.

Participants range from professional painters to untrained sketchers to animation professors to high school students.

``There are very few things I've come across in life where skilled professionals work alongside rank amateurs,'' Steinhart said.

Most draw, though a few paint with watercolors or oils. Some use a new sheet of paper for each of the model's poses, while others create a series of tiny figures side by side. No matter their method or background, many participants say they come to the group because of the almost meditative state drawing can bring.

``You concentrate on what you're doing, and you forget everything else,'' said Helene Fredrickson, who has drawn with the group since the mid-1980s. ``You can have something tormenting you, disturbing you. You go draw and everything vanishes. You think of nothing.''

Steinhart was in search of that sort of experience when he found the group 18 years ago. While living in Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer in the 1960s, he'd dreamed of being a painter. But when he returned to the United States, he put his art aside to concentrate on starting a family and building his career as a writer.

``I realized all I was doing was working and parenting,'' he said. ``I felt like I needed something with no hard edge to its purpose.''

Drawing became an escape, but it was also a way to practice seeing and interpreting gestures and facial expressions. And the hope of getting better -- ``If we just keep doing this, we're going to get good at it!'' -- brought him back to the Palo Alto group week after week.

Fredrickson initially hesitated to try drawing with the group. She enjoyed sketching and had taken one class, but she'd never seriously pursued art.

``I kept putting it off at first because I thought it would be populated by people who can draw very well,'' Fredrickson said. ``I was afraid. Finally, I took the risk.''

She attended sporadically at first, then started to go every few weeks. Now retired, Fredrickson, 73, has made the group part of her weekly routine. She typically claims the same spot each week, a space in the front corner of the room that provides good light and shadow.

Fredrickson doesn't talk much to others in the group, though she sometimes admires others' drawings during breaks. She said she feels close to the other artists in the room, even without speaking, because everybody is working toward the same goal.

Katherine Broderick said she feels a similar energy. The Half Moon Bay High School student started attending the group this fall after her art teacher recommended it. Now, she and four friends carpool to the class.

``You kind of feed off each other, if you need it,'' said Katherine, 17. ``There's a thousand different interpretations of the same pose.''

Few people in the group will ever make a living from the work they do in the group, Steinhart said. Most pile their sketchbooks in the garage or dump old drawings in the trash. But the hope of improving, of picking up on something new, keeps them coming back.

``We go faithfully every week,'' he said, ``and learn from other people.''


The drawing group meets from 7 to 9:45 p.m. each Tuesday at the Palo Alto Art Center, 1313 Newell Road. The fee is $5 a session. For more information, call (650) 329-2107.
Contact Kimra McPherson at kmcpherson@ or (650) 688-7557.

When this story was posted in December 2004, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: San Jose Mercury News

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Kenya; Art; Drawing; Writing - Kenya



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