Photographer unknown, Untitled (Students at MollyOlga), c. 1986; black and white photograph, 3 x 5 inches; Image courtesy of Locust St. Neighborhood Art Classes (formerly MollyOlga Neighborhood Art Classes)
Locust St. Neighborhood Art Classes
A Buffalo Community Story
On View Friday, December 9, 2016–Sunday, April 2, 2017
"Locust Street Art (LSA) has been a staple in our community since 1959. It has grown immensely from where it started to where it is now, based on contributions from students and community organizations. Contributions include 35mm cameras, easels, clay tools, and monetary donations. With the help of grants, LSA has been able to afford; a state of the art computer lab for our animation studio and a working kiln for ceramics, all the while maintaining focus on the fundamentals of creating art and what that means.
As with most non-profit programs, LSA has had its financial challenges. The past year was no exception. The beautiful historic building in which Locust Street Art holds its free classes, located in the Fruit Belt just behind the medical campus, is starting to show its age. A lot of the funding has been tied up in fixing and maintaining the building. LSA invested in a whole new heating system after the old radiators burst last winter season. Two separate storms caused fallen trees that damaged the exterior bricks, gutter system, and windows of the building as well. With so much going into the actual structure of this institutional gem, there is not much room to continue flourishing. Because of the setbacks over the past year, LSA had to close its doors for periods of time, yet the staff and students remained committed and dedicated to the school.
It is inconceivable however, for LSA to close for good. Locust Street Art is reintroducing workshops on specialty art forms and growing the classes that already exist by bringing in better and more efficient tools while still focusing on the fundamentals. LSA wants to introduce digital photography to our black and white film photography class and pottery wheels to our ceramics class. This dream will come to fruition with more and continued help from the Buffalo community, grants and our contracted programs (other organizations use our services and teachers for private programing).
Locust Street Art prides itself on overcoming all odds to create an all-encompassing safe artist space for all of its students. Every individual brings their own talented contributions that enrich our community and allow LSA to grow like a family. It has shaped so many generations of local Buffalo Artists and will continue to inspire future generations of artists to come."
-Locust St. Neighborhood Art Classes Staff, 2016
"Roots and Development of Locust St. Art, 1959-2012
In the summer of 1959, a young girl asked the artist/art teacher who lived in the rear cottage behind her, to help her learn to draw. Soon more neighborhood children started coming to what they called “painting parties.” When the children became too many for the kitchen and front porch of the rear cottage at 69 Maple St. in the Fruit Belt, the artist –Molly Bethel– approached Reverend Kenneth Curry of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church at 166 Goodell St., to use the parish hall after school one afternoon a week. With Father Curry’s backing, the “painting parties” became the Tuesday Afternoon Painting Class, and stayed there until 1971.
By the end of the first year, 50 neighborhood children were coming, mostly walking in on their own with friends. Help was needed. A phone call to Buffalo State College Art Education Department brought several students to do their pre-student teaching. Olga Aleksiewicz (Lownie) was the one who stayed—ultimately for 33 years. She was an important and caring strength as the program evolved. Separate clay classes were added when children requested them.
As the children became teenagers, some wanted a separate space from the younger brothers and sisters many brought with them. This was the beginning of the Teen/Adult classes. The Teenage Assistant program evolved organically from young teenagers spontaneously helping out both with younger children and with such fundamentals as clean-up, set-up and other activates.
The First Annual Art Show was held in 1960. Throughout the years, the Annual Art Shows were teaching tools to showcase each student’s most significant accomplishments of the year to family, friends, and the community.
When St. Philip’s was displaced by urban renewal “clear-out,” Molly Bethel and Olga Lownie incorporated the Art Classes, and relocated to the first rooms of the St. Boniface Convent at 138 Locust St.—deeper within the Fruit Belt, while retaining the community of neighborhood students. When St. Boniface downsized in 1981, Molly Olga bought the building free and clear, with 25¢-$50 donations from neighborhood families and other interested people.
Ted Lownie (Olga’s husband) designed and oversaw the renovation, which was paid for largely by the Wendt Foundation. Once the building was secured, it opened the way for more organic evolution: studio classes jumped to 4 days after-school plus Saturdays, a minimum of 32 weeks per year. Clay expanded with our own kilns under Roycroft Potters Sally Danforth and Janice McDuffie. Adaptive renovation of the historic building opened up the second and finally the third floor. In response to student requests, commercial photographer Barbi Lare developed the Photography program. She scrounged the equipment, her husband built the first darkroom and she taught the classes. The Photography attracted adults as well as teenagers. As numbers increased, two fathers who were photographers started helping and became teachers—Roscoe Jackson and later Kenn Morgan.
Most of the 2nd and 3rd generation of teaching staff developed by the route from student to Teenage Assistant to Teacher: most notably Dorothy Harold, Lenore Bethel, Valeria Cray, Curtis Robinson, Ricky Gonzales, Kevin Bobo, and later Tysheka Long, Sky Bethel, Garry Collins, and many more. Other adult artists who taught for shorter periods included Eileen McNamara, Carmen Alvarez Feldman, Roberto Pacheco, Barbara Insalaco, Art Pepe, Dorothy Stallworth, and Lenord Bethel (who also created drawing used on schedules and some programs.)
By actual count from the Annual Art Show programs, over 6000 individuals attended often enough to be included in an Annual Art Show—many in multiple disciplines and for multiple years—during the 52 years of 1959-60 thru 2011-12. Second and even third generations of some families became part of the Locust Street Art/MollyOlga community.
Locust Street Art evolved organically from the requests and ideas of young people coming to the classes. It was not directed or planned from “above.” All the people who worked there, or came, had a say. The Building became an integral part of the community thru consistent ongoing scheduling, realistic-accessibility (no-cost so everyone was equal and had access, ease of registration) and the particular teaching method through which each person learns how to express their own vision and ideas with increasing effectiveness, real respect for each person’s honest effort and the resulting works.
- Molly Bethel"
"Children are the most creative when given the encouragement, opportunity and materials for expressing their ideas. The MollyOlga Neighborhood Art Classes (predecessor to Locust Street Art Classes) were the nucleus to let these moments of creativity occur.
Inherent in the classes was respect for the children, their ideas and helped to guide them in the development of those ideas.
It was most satisfying to see a child’s face light up when they were finished with their work; whether a drawing, painting clay piece.
- Olga Aleksiewicz Lownie"