Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Battle Creek series.
Anyone can be an artist, says Debra Kristen Carlton, a member of the Battle Creek Society of Artists
For more than 20 years this group, now made up of 69 members from throughout southwest Michigan, has been meeting monthly. Sometimes their meetings include a guest artist who speaks about their work and other times members gather to discuss the work with each other.
Carlton, who serves as the organization’s treasurer and co-membership leader, describes herself as “dabbling” in art and says being involved with the Society of Artists has given her opportunities to meet people and form lasting friendships, in addition to exposing her to different art mediums.
“We have people who work with watercolors, acrylics, pastels, stained glass, and fiber arts,” Carlton says. “I’m introduced to different art forms that I never thought about doing.”
With the average age of members being between 50 and 60, Carlton says the organization is focusing on bringing in younger people and has started to put an emphasis on hosting more workshops and artist talks. Two weeks ago, Conrad Kaufman, a Kalamazoo-based artist
, spoke to a gathering at the Art Center of Battle Creek and will be presenting a workshop at his studio there Oct. 22.
Liz Sweeney shows a painting to students during a Lifelong Learning waterclass class.
Like Kaufman, several Society of Artists members sell their work and have exhibits at the Art Center and rotating exhibits at Bronson Battle Creek Hospital.
“We have photographers who have had their work on display at Bronson Battle Creek Hospital and we as a group have participated in the Painted Chair Affair fundraiser,” Carlton says.
The Painted Chair event is a major annual fundraiser for the Woman’s Co-op womancoop.org in Battle Creek.
Melanie Wheeler, of Marshall, has sold between 20 of her acrylic paintings and also has been commissioned to paint portraits of pets and people.
Coco Sweezy is seen with some of her paintings.
Wheeler, who handles publicity for the Society of Artists, is a retired teacher with what was then the Albion Public Schools where she taught for more than 30 years. She also taught for a few years at Kellogg Community College. But, she never taught art even though graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts and Art Education from Western Michigan University.
Once she retired, she says she picked it up again as more of a serious pursuit and less of a hobby. She focuses on landscape painting.
“For my own pleasure, I do landscapes,” she says. “I don’t have to sell my work, so I do what I want.”
Kristen Carlton is seen with some of her paintings in pottery.
Wheeler began working in pastels but transitioned to acrylics because these paintings were easier to ship to customers.
She says the Society of Artists is important for Battle Creek because it brings different artists together to network and share their work.
“This gives them new ways to express themselves and market their work,” Wheeler says. “The great thing is we get people from all walks of life coming together to share their talents with each other.”
Melanie Wheeler is seen with some of her paintings.