By: Brittany Hardy
Charleen Isbell and her dear friend Ellen Foster breezily finish each others sentences. A relationship initially constructed by a mutual love for wielding a paintbrush to canvas has become a relationship of profound connection.
The pair laugh easily in Isbell’s Waco home. Their friendship needs no explanations, no maintenance, no verbs.
They are both dedicated members of The Art Guild of Central Texas, an organization that meets once a month, every second Sunday, at Waco Charter School on North 25th Street, where meetings have been held for the last 10 years. Isbell is the current president; Foster is a former president. Both credit the guild as their source of fellowship, encouragement and motivation.
“It was a group of artists who knew each other about 40 or 45 years ago,” Foster said. “One of the problems that artists have is that eventually you have to start selling your art or you will fill up your house and have to move.”
The Art Guild of Central Texas was organized in 1965 under the name of CASA —Community Artists and Students Association.
“There’s something about creativity that kind of floats in the air. It’s the same with journalists. When you’re in a room full of journalists, don’t you feel inspired?” Foster said. “I can feel the creative energy around the room and in the people and I just want to go home and express myself with some of those feelings.”
As well as planting inspiration within members, the art guild has taken an active role in the development of Waco’s community. The guild believes in the intrinsic power of art and its ability to spread externally in order to cultivate progress in the community.
The guild has volunteered its time and resources to several schools in Waco ISD. Students have also been invited to participate in lessons and contests through various guild-sponsored galleries.
“The work that these second- and third- graders do is just amazing, especially if they have a teacher who knows how to bring out the best in them,” Foster said.
Scholarships have been a recurring function of the group and annual gifts are presented to students of all ages. These scholarships are not only financially beneficial but are also a source of encouragement for the local artists who receive them as guild members consistently keep in touch with several scholarship recipients.
The guild positively effects local youth by giving grants to young artists and having an annual art contest for grades first through fifth. Members of the group donate their time each month to assist children at Waco Charter School with art projects. Each class votes on their favorite piece of artwork and the artist is rewarded a prize donated by the guild.
Foster said they have witnessed change as a result of art in the community, through their organization as well as through other local organizations dedicated to the growth and influence of art.
“Usually our communities are a little more peaceful than communities without any influence of art. Within our community I see very little conflict,” Foster said.
“Art improves the value of our world, making life more interesting, peaceful and sometimes shocking and exciting,” added Isbell.
The guild has become a powerful catalyst for the two artists’ progress as a result of many of its characteristics. For instance, at each of the monthly meetings, members are encouraged to bring their most recent piece of artwork and present it to the organization. Critique is exchanged and the best piece is selected. The artists thrive and grow from this competition — a competition the pair agreed has been crucial to their individual artistic development.
“Sometimes just the little competition of being voted ‘best’ is very encouraging or it’s motivating to the person who’s been doing art for a long time and they’ve come to a fork in the road,” Foster said.
It is here — in the process of examining and critiquing fellow local artists — that motivation is replenished and discouragements are overcome. From this place these local artist are rejuvenated, better able to express themselves and promote art in the local community.
“They see something different or hear about some new ideas they’ve never tried,” Foster said. “For instance, someone who has always used a brush might watch a painter using a palette knife and be inspired to experiment with an entirely new skill set.”
Foster has experienced this rejuvenation firsthand, during dry spells in her practice. “Something always motivates me and I always start again,” she said.
In 2003 “CASA” reorganized and became “Art Guild.” One of the original charter members still attends meetings and gives classes. He is one of Waco’s best-known portrait artists, Don Magid. Over the years the guild has held art festivals, operated galleries and continued the tradition of featuring Texas artists.
“I think it really has achieved its purpose, because beside being concerned with selling our art, it has always been our purpose to get young people involved in art,” Foster said. “That’s where the scholarships come in.”
Past scholarships were awarded to college level art students, no strings attached. Amounts were from $100 to $500, depending on the amount of funds available. Art teachers where the students were enrolled selected the winners.
Present day winners are selected from entries submitted to Art Guild by the grade school selected for the awards. A committee of Art Guild members picks the winners. They are smaller amounts, with no obligation.
The guild also encourages and enhances the local culture by purchasing all art supplies from local stores. The artistic friends smiled as they talked about the kindness of the local employees and the financial benefit of paying with their weekly coupons, from the guild. It is clear that these women take pride in the details of their guild.
For Foster, the decision to join the guild as well as the decision to pursue art have been life-changing markers that she looks back on with especially fond memories.
“I got acquainted with some people who were artists and I would go with them to outdoor art shows when they had them. I would just keep them company. It was something to do for the weekend. That was when I was single,” Foster said. “And then I moved to a small town in another state and there wasn’t much going on there that interested me. I noticed that someone was giving art lessons so I thought why don’t I try that and once I got started I kept right on doing it.”
On the art guild’s website interested members of the community can find a myriad of information, including upcoming and past events, program schedules, bylaws, classes, contact information and painting tips and tricks. The guild welcomes anyone with an interest in art to attend meetings, join the group or help support this creative effort with patron memberships and gifts.
The group has had an open-door policy since its beginning.
“We welcome anyone with an interest in art. They don’t have to be an artist to come to the meetings or join the organization. We are glad to have anyone who just wants to be a part of the art community,” Foster said.
The pair’s cherished friendship is made even sweeter through their artistic commonality. As they talk about how art has changed the way they look at the world, they easily understand each other in a way that outsiders would be unable to do.
“I see things that aren’t there. Sometimes I’ll see a tree. Turn. And I’ll see the outline of a dog instead,” Isbell said.
“Oh! I do that too. I’m always making things in my mind out of clouds and out of wood,” Foster said.
“Even out of floor tiles. I see faces in floor tiles,” Isbell said.
“But we may have done that even before were working at art,” Foster said. “You’ve always had an artist’s temperament.”