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Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Marianne Manning and her grandson, Finn Yerkes, 10, show off her portrait of him at her studio on Tuesday.

Creative expansion

Local artist launches kids classes, portrait-painting business out of her home

Posted: September 1, 2011 - 12:00am  |  Updated: September 1, 2011 - 12:10am

In the Manning household, art is everywhere.

It covers the walls, weaves through family conversations, and is a professional and passionate focus for more than half of the adult members of the family; a closer look at many of the paintings in the home reveals at least four versions of a “Manning” signature.

Beginning this fall, the artistic energy at the Manning house will be channeled in an additional direction. Marianne Manning, mother of five and grandmother of four, will offer oil painting classes for children, a venture she’s operating out of the first floor of her Hemlock Street home, in tandem with a portrait painting business.

Manning, a former teacher at Harborview Elementary and Juneau-Douglas High School, said she decided to offer classes for kids in part because she has a great location for an afterschool class — she lives three blocks from Harborview — and, now that her own children are grown, has enough space to make it work. She is also mentally ready to reimmerse herself in some aspect of teaching.

“I think the other thing was I’d had some time by myself. I’d had some time to just paint and I’m kind of at a point now where I’d like to share again, what I know and how I feel about it,” she said.

Two adjacent rooms on the first floor of her house will be devoted to classes and to her studio. In one room, five or six easels stand in row against the large windows. Palette knives are arrayed on the table beside the easels, ready for young hands to learn to wield. In the next room, Manning’s studio, several larger easels hold portraits in various stages of completion — a smiling young man, a little girl in a tutu, an elderly gentleman ­­— all of which are being painted on commission. Even unfinished, the portraits, painted from photographs, seem to resonate with energy and life; Manning said she enjoys the challenge of attempting to capture something of a subject’s personality through the layers of paint, and keeps at it until she gets there. One portrait can take her anywhere from several hours to several days to finish.

Manning’s recent solo show at the Canvas Community Art Gallery featured many of her portraits, some of which feature her grandchildren, as well as landscapes and other works.

For her business, she’s decided to focus on portraiture for the time being. And for her painting classes, she plans to give kids the option of painting portraits or something else.

“I’m going to have the kids select what they want,” she said. “They can do a landscape, they can do a portrait, they can do an animal drawing.”

At the same time, individual choice will be tempered with common sense about artistic standards.

“You want to encourage the kids to do be themselves and do their own thing, but (if a work is) also a representational drawing of a person, you can’t just do it all black and say ‘Well, I wanted it black!” she said laughing.

She’ll be teaching the kids in oils from the outset, an unusual choice when working with children who often begin with watercolors or acrylics. Though oils are more expensive and potentially more complicated to learn, Manning feels giving kids an opportunity to use high-quality raw materials might help foster a love of painting.

“I like them to learn with the right stuff,” she said. “It’s kind of like reading a great book, or learning how to read just boring books. You could still learn, but will you have a passion for it?”

Oil, she said, is also much more forgiving.

“With a watercolor you can be working along and then there’s one long drip and just you want to cry,” she said. “With oils you can always just keep going over and over. You never get perfect at it, you’re always just striving to get better and better.”

Manning plans to start with a class size of six kids, ages 8 to 12, and hopes to encourage creative support and communication among her students, a dynamic she said she frequently benefits from herself.

“Painting is hard because it’s not like a violin lesson. People kind of feed off each other,” she said.

“I am constantly asking my daughter Jackie, or her boyfriend, Chris, or my husband, ‘Will you look at that?’ or ‘What does that need?’ (And they say) ‘Oh you need a little of this.’”

Manning’s daughter Jackie, a painter, recently had a solo show at the Alaska State Museum, where she now works, and teaches painting classes at the Canvas, as does her partner Chris. Daughter Kylie, also a painter, is currently based in Germany, though she comes home in the summers to fish. Tom Manning, Marianne’s husband, is the art teacher at JDHS and was recently honored with a Governor’s Award for the Arts. He is also an active artist. The Mannings also have three more children: Molly (Yerkes), who is principal of Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School, Joe, who works at the Baranof, and Kelley, who works at REACH.

When asked how she and her husband raised such successful artists, Manning says she didn’t push it, but made sure there were opportunities for them to create.

“I don’t know if I sat and worked with them as much as things were always available to them,” she said. “If they were drawing, that was very wonderful thing to do. That was important.”

Manning now watches some of her grandchildren after they get out of school and frequently participates in what she calls “playtime art” with the younger ones, something she feels is incredibly important. However, that is not what she plans to offer students in her classes. After an initial discussion about materials and subjects, she will move quickly on to the business of painting.

“Because the only way to get better at painting is to paint,” she said. “You can talk about it until you’re blue in the face, but you’ve got to pick up that brush and put the paint on.”

Manning said that, like her students, she will continue to work on her skills through both classes and practice. In 2007, she received a Rasmuson grant to study with Daniel Greene, one of the top American portrait painters, in New York. She has also taken classes in San Francisco and Mexico, as well as at The Canvas (often under the direction of her daughter Jackie) and at the University of Alaska Southeast. She hopes to put the money from the kids painting classes and portrait commissions back into her continuing eduction, and said she feels very lucky to be able to do what she loves.

“This is actually a great time for me,” she said. “My children are all older, they’re all doing fine, my husband and I really like it here, and its nice for me to be able to do what I like.”

For more information about Manning’s portraits or kids classes, call 463-3431 or email mariannemanningstudio@gmail.com. Kids sessions will run from Sept. 13-Oct. 18 and from Oct. 25-Nov. 29. The cost is $210, and includes all materials. Manning’s commissioned portraits start at $325.

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