It was a birthday party to remember.
That was the consensus among the 3- to 6-year-olds who feted Genevieve Schmidt at her sixth birthday party.
Genevieve, a kindergartner at Logan Elementary, had originally planned to celebrate at Chuck E. Cheese’s, but changed her mind one day after playing with clay.
She wanted an art party, she announced to her mom and dad. And she wanted to host it at her art teacher’s studio, where she could show her friends how to make and decorate their own clay tiles.
“With the economy the way it is, I’m trying to make the most out of special occasions,” said Genevieve’s mom, Janean Jorgensen Schmidt.
“… We could just have cake and a pinata in the back yard, but I’d rather invest what small birthday budget we have into a great experience for her and her friends – something that will give them great memories.”
So in late May, Genevieve and her guests gathered around a table at the studio of Spokane artist Robin Nelson Wicks. Surrounded by paintings, photos of sculptures, ceramic wheels, brushes, paints, easels and other supplies and tools, the children immersed themselves in their project.
In this garage-turned-studio illuminated by natural light streaming through large windows, Genevieve and her friends drew pictures on foam that they cut out and later impressed on clay. After applying a layer of liquid clay known as “slip” and drying their pieces in the sun, they scraped off the slip and created an inlaid tile ready to be fired in the kiln.
Some families throw their own art parties at home, but many parents prefer to get help by turning to craft stores such as Michael’s and the Corbin Art Center, which offers an art party program.
Another option is to seek the expertise of a local artist such as Nelson Wicks, an art educator for more than 20 years who has taught workshops at the Seattle Art Museum and other places in the Puget Sound area, San Francisco and Japan.
For the past nine months, she has been teaching group and private art classes to children, adults and families. She also offers art parties at her South Hill home, known as “The Art Studio.”
“Art parties allow kids to create something together – it becomes a collective, creative experience,” said Nelson Wicks, who has a bachelor’s degree in studio art and art history from the University of Washington as well as a master of fine arts in photography.
“Make art, create a masterpiece, bring party food and drink,” she writes on her Web site. “Afterward, go home to your clean house and relax!”
At Corbin Art Center, families can choose from more than a dozen theme projects. The most popular ones involve either pirates or princesses, said director Lynn Mandyke.
During the pirate party, kids usually make eye patches, hats or swords. Those who attend the princess-themed celebrations create tiaras and wands.
Another popular theme this year is a scavenger hunt, which involves having kids solve clues as they search around the center’s garden.
Parents also can customize the art projects depending on their child’s interests, said Mandyke. Generally, a three-hour party at Corbin costs about $82 for up to 10 kids. This summer, however, the center is offering two-hour dinosaur or princess party for only $69.
Nelson Wicks charges $100 for parties of eight children or adults plus a materials fee based on the media. (The clay for Genevieve’s party, for instance, cost an additional $16.)
For another $25, parties at the Art Studio also can include face painting by her 15-year-old daughter, Hannah.
While the children created art in the studio during Genevieve’s celebration, the adults relaxed in Nelson Wicks’ quiet, shady backyard garden. After starting their art projects, the students gathered in the garden to open gifts, play and eat birthday cupcakes.
Nelson Wicks also offers a summer art camp at her studio. Some of those weeklong classes include beginning ceramics, recycled art, drawing landscape and nature, and creating books.
At a time when many schools are losing their art elective, classes at the Art Studio as well as these art parties “give kids a good shot of art,” she said.
“Kids love doing stuff like this,” said Cora Hernandez, who brought 3-year-old Bella and 5-year-old Emma to Genevieve’s party. “It keeps them busy. It helps them be creative and teaches them how to work in a group.”
It was also one of the “easiest, lowest stress parties” that the family has ever thrown, said Jorgensen Schmidt. “All we had to do was show up and bring food.”
Art parties can be fun for the whole family as well as other groups, Nelson Wicks said. Some families come to the studio for special occasions – to create a sculpture for the garden, for instance, or to create a special gift for a family member.
“I think art is a community-building process,” said Nelson Wicks. “You have time to actually talk while making something. It’s good for everybody.”