Donna Rhodes is standing at the back of the room with her head cocked toward her right shoulder, analyzing her work in progress.
Trying to make her crow look as lifelike as possible is giving her fits of frustration.
“Is this something you’d want to shoot out of a tree?” she jokingly asks museum volunteer Jim Harger as he passes by.
She is one of nearly a dozen people in the room in front of a canvas, paint tubes and brushes scattered about a table.
Each Friday morning they gather to take part in Barbara McBride’s art class at the Tipton County Museum. Anyone is welcomed to attend, no matter if you’ve painted in the past or not.
“We have either oil or acrylic, however we start with a drawing lesson (unless they don’t need it),” she explains. “Everything comes in shapes and once you start seeing shapes you can draw it. You work from the shapes.”
At the head of the room is John Lane, a retired band director. He spent 47 years teaching middle schoolers to play instruments and always wanted to “do art,” he said.
Lane, who is dressed in a tie-dye shirt that looks very similar to the background he’s painting behind an angel, says he drives from Bartlett each Friday to attend the class. McBride was recommended to him by a friend.
“I always told my wife, ‘One of these years when I retire I’m going to do art. I found a wonderful teacher at Hobby Lobby and she quit after about a year. I kind of stumbled around looking for somebody and a friend told me that there’s an art teacher up here. I love it, she’s a wonderful instructor –”
“I didn’t pay you, either,” McBride jokes from across the room.
Lane says he was surprised recently when he noticed another person in the class – his former brother-in-law, Terry Ridenour, whom he hasn’t seen in three decades.
Both just so happened to be taking the same art class in Covington.
“We met last week,” says Lane. “I really didn’t recognize him because he has his hat on and then when I was sitting here and he was over there and I got to looking at him, I said, ‘So help me, that’s Terry!’ I walked over there and he says, ‘You don’t remember me, do you Johnny?’ It was a shock – I didn’t expect it.”
At the back of the room there’s a tackle box opened on the chair next to Ridenour. Tubes of oil paint, with smudges showing their contents, are organized inside its dividers, one tube per vertical slot, while frayed brushes and palette knives are stored in the longer, horizontal slots.
He usually paints with acrylics, he says, and the two barns in progress on his easel are special.
His wife’s father, though he had Parkinson’s Disease and it was difficult to hold a brush still, began painting in his late 80s when he married his long-lost sweetheart. She was a painter and encouraged him to give it a shot.
“She was a real good painter so she got him painting too,” Ridenhour explains. “And he won some awards for best beginner. He painted barns and covered bridges and he died in the late ‘90s. These are pictures he started but he didn’t finish, so I thought I’d finish them for him.”
As he paints he shares anecdotes from his father-in-law’s life, like the time the former cash register repairman had the opportunity to fix a register on the spot while shopping with Terry and his wife.
Painting is another way to connect with his father-in-law’s legacy.
“I had a bunch of his stuff, so I decided to do it. I’m not sure if he’d be happy about it, but I am.”
Most everyone else works from smaller inspiration photos.
Shirley Warrick loves painting umbrellas.
She dabs a brush into black paint before touching up the silhouette of a young girl in yellow rain boots holding a bright red umbrella. Behind the girl, color rains down from the sky.
She has been taking art classes for three months.
“I do it for fun,” she says.
Warrick, like other participants, has lead a wonderful life, raised children and finds the class is a way to get out of the house and let the creativity flow from her.
She doesn’t think her paintings are any good and says the other women – like Joyce Howard and Barbara Marese – are much more talented.
Both Howard and Marese are taking cues from nature with their work.
Howard began the class by painting tulips that’d been growing in her yard last spring. Like Rhodes, she was frustrated with getting the details just right and has moved on to painting a bluebird from the cover of a glossy publication.
“My brain got dead on my tulips,” she jokes. “The more I worked on it the worse it was getting, so I quit.”
Known for working in local schools and being a talented cake decorator – she taught herself to do so many years ago – she and Marese have also taken a stained glass class where they’ve produced beautiful pieces of work.
Marese, who says she’s been “playing” with painting for several years adds highlight to her painting of a bee.
“I don’t know why I picked the bee but I did. I usually pick more landscapes. I decided to do a bee for some reason and I’m kinda liking it. I’m liking learning to do it and I know I could do better eventually.”
She said she enjoys the painting class at the museum in the room where the gardens are on display.
“A nice atmosphere, good surroundings, great teacher, pleasant people,” she said. I like the interaction of the people.
Somewhere in the room Rhodes is still laughing in frustration over the crow, but she and her classmates are working diligently to produce work for an upcoming show.
There will be an art exhibit at Dyersburg State Community College featuring the work of this class, museum director Barrie Foster’s class and other Tipton County artists for two months beginning Feb. 19.
The Tipton County Museum also hosts other classes – Stunning Watercolor Seascapes with Foster begins Wednesday, Feb. 5 and Art is for Everyone with McBride begins Friday, Feb. 7. Students may paint in oils or acrylics. No previous art experience required.
For more information, call 901- 476-0242. Program fee is $60 for museum members and $80 for non-members. The museum is located at 751 Bert Johnston Ave. in Covington.