You ‘Gotta’ Have Art

Celebrating the new Julia Sweeney College of Fine Arts at La Loma Village

By John Tucker

Like a fine work of art that outlives its creator, Julia Sweeney’s artistic influence is still palpable in Litchfield Park. Julia had strong roots in the community and at La Loma Village, part of Sun Health Senior Living.

Now, an arts education program at La Loma Village, where Julia lived until 2011, has been named in her honor. This adds to her legacy as an artist, local pioneer and friend to many.

The Julia Sweeney College of Fine Arts is part of the fall curriculum at La Loma University, a lifelong learning program for La Loma residents, now in its third year.

“Julia would love this honor,” says resident Phyllis Stacklie, who was a good friend and shared Julia’s love of fine art, especially painting.

Phyllis remembers the La Loma art studio cinched the deal for her when she and her husband were looking for a retirement community more than a decade ago.

“It was a great studio, which Julia nurtured. In addition to donating books and supplies, Julia inspired other residents to be creative there,” says Phyllis, who enjoys watercolor painting. “She really brought out the artistic ability of so many people.”

According to Phyllis, Julia wasn’t just a gifted painter. She also had a knack for working with precious metals and polymer clay, and she taught other residents how to work with those mediums.

Several of Julia’s watercolor paintings are displayed in the studio, and a few La Loma residents own her artwork, which she often gave as gifts.

Local talents

The teachers for the fine arts classes are familiar faces on the La Loma campus. Marisa Richmond, art enrichment specialist, and a talented visual artist herself, is teaching two courses focusing on the works of 20th century artists Pablo Picasso and Georgia O’Keefe. In addition to learning about the artists’ lives, influences and styles, students are encouraged to create artworks modeled after these famous artists, regardless of their skill level.

“Creating art can be intimidating, but if you just do it the possibilities are endless,” says Marisa, who has a master’s in art therapy and has worked at La Loma for two years. “I want students to have fun with the process of making art, and not worry so much about the finished product.” She’s fond of saying, “there are no mistakes in art, just happy accidents.”

The classes will include a field trip to the Phoenix Art Museum.

Marisa is scheduled to teach a woodblock printmaking class in the spring.

Future classes include working with clay and learning how to create altered books, a type of mixed-media artwork that changes a book into a work of art.

While visual art represents a vital part of the curriculum, music shares equal footing.

Board-certified music therapist Ione Murray, who plays French horn in two local symphonies, is teaching classes about world music using mostly percussion instruments.

“Music is my passion, and it’s also therapy for me, and I want to share it with others,” Ione says.

The classes explore the characteristics of Western and nonWestern music and the purposes that music serves in each culture. Ione plans to take students to the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix.

Ione has taught guitar and songwriting classes to high school students in Poland, given French horn lessons and leads multiple hand bell choirs with residents at both the health and rehabilitation center and independent living. Future plans may include group guitar or ukulele classes.

Phyllis is confident that Julia would be thrilled.

“She knew that art and creativity were important for people of all ages. Julia asked me to do whatever I could to keep the art going here,” Phyllis says.

The Julia Sweeney College of Fine Arts is delivering on that wish.

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