Getting to the heart of art

Maureen Claffy leads series using masters' methods to unlock imaginations

"Art is the language of the soul."

That's the message local artist Maureen Claffy wants to impart to her Hinsdale neighbors through a new monthly series called Heartwork at the Hinsdale Public Library, which enlists artistic techniques to tap into adult students' creative force.

"My belief is, if you're breathing, you're an artist," Claffy said. "You're creating your life."

In each class, the work of a notable artist will guide participants in examining a process, technique or emotion. Heartwork kicks off with an exploration of Vincent Van Gogh and his use of geometric shapes from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 7, at the library, 20 E. Maple St. (see sidebar for the full series schedule).

"If you can master geometric forms, you can draw just about any object that you would like," Claffy said.

Promoting personal expression is the one of the central objectives of the series.

"It's a combination of actual technical drawing skill and also access to your own creative power, your imagination and your free thought," she said. "What's really interesting is what you want to say, because you've had a completely unique human experience."

All are welcome, regardless of previous experience. People can sign up for one class or all 12, and materials will be provided.

"Most of art comes down to 'Do you have the right supplies?' " Claffy said.

Lizzy Boden, the library's adult services manager, said the idea for the series grew out of a desire to expand on other art classes Claffy has led at the library, as well as her extensive history teaching the community's youth.

"She primarily works with children, and we thought how great it would be to work with adults and try to find a way to use art to make connections and build community," Boden said. "It really fits well within our mission. The library, in addition to being about education, it's always about lifelong learning. And art falls into that category."

Claffy echoed that desire to lean into the unifying power of art and have students journey together on the experience - particularly coming out of a long season of social distancing.

"There's something really beautiful about people coming together and creating art, celebrating the fact that we can be in the same room again," she said.

The class on contemporary Chicago artist Nick Cave in July is entitled "A Message of Love for America."

"He asks, 'Can we all love each other while looking at our shared history where we have failed?' " Claffy related.

May's session on American impressionist Mary Cassat will delve into the creative force reflected in the maternal. December's class on painter Gustav Klimt will focus on ornamentation, just in time for the holidays.

"We tried to make the schedule so it had a connection to our seasonal year," Claffy said.

She said producing art also has a therapeutic effect to enable people to better face their challenges.

"It helps people process trauma and gives them a safe place to express it," she offered.

Boden agreed.

"We want people to create art themselves in a welcoming and stress-free space where exploration is encouraged," said Boden, noting that this type of year-long series is a first for the library. "We want you to have a sense of achievement when you leave. It's going to be very much about learning artistic technique, but also about finding your inner artist and making connections and having that sense of community through art.

"I think it's going to be really, really incredible. I'm really excited about it," she added, citing the high demand for the library's art-related programs. "They fill up fast!"

Claffy hopes students enter into the Heartwork series with their own hearts open to new experiences.

"It's about helping people connect to their inner artist in a way that makes their life beautiful," she said. "I feel like if everybody made art, our lives would be so much happier."

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean