Scatter Joy Art Ambassador Deborah Ross takes us on a journey to Africa

Deborah Ross, here with the Malagasy Comet Moth

The first time Deborah Ross realized the impact of her work drawing and painting with children in remote African villages, the renowned wildlife artist was collaborating on a book with Dr. Shirley C. Strum, director of the Uaso Ngiro Baboon Project in the Laikipia Plateau region of Kenya.

This was in 1997, and the children in the community would crowd around her every time she began painting.

“I needed something to distract them and keep them out of the way. Otherwise, they would just stand there and stare at me, so I gave them paper and paint and they went and did their own paintings, which were really wonderful,” says Ross, who has devoted her career to conservation awareness through her expressive watercolor art.

She remembers one of the young Maasai boys layering on his colors, creating beautiful patterns with his work.

“None of these kids had prior experience. They just go — no inhibitions whatsoever,” says Ross, who never imagined those impromptu art projects would ultimately lead her to offer dozens of art workshops for children in several African countries.

This past summer, we selected Ross as our first Scatter Joy Art Ambassador, providing her with a grant to purchase art supplies for workshops in Madagascar. The New York City illustrator and fine artist, who is also on the faculty of the School of Visual Arts, travels annually to Africa to study and document the people, animals and landscapes there in her light, expressive hand.

Her workshops with the children are a constant source of wonder and delight.

“Often with my other work, I’m just alone working by myself. I do better when painting accompanied,” she says. “I really feed off of community. I get all hyped up. With the kids, there’s all that energy — the fun, the inspiration, the community. It’s really joyful.”

There are also the rewards of providing them with a new tool for self-expression and watching their absorption in the play of paint and paper.

“Because they don’t have computers or eat a lot of sugar, they really concentrate,” she says. “That surprised me from the start, their determination and their absolute focus on what we were doing and their realization of the importance of this work.”

Over the years, she’s received letters from many of her students expressing how much they miss her classes and thanking her for the joy she brought to their lives.

About 10 years ago, when she returned to the Uaso Ngiro Baboon Project, a young man assisting on site asked her for paper and pencil.

“He went out and did the most elaborate drawings for me of the baboons and all of their activities — these beautifully layered, very detailed drawings,” says Ross. “I was just awestruck.”

She was convinced he was the very kid who had meticulously layered on color after color in his paintings a decade ago. Though one of the staff members dismissed her insistence, the young man gifted her with his paintings when she was leaving, inviting her to visit his home upon her return.

When she asked where his home was, she discovered he was indeed the boy, all grown up, that she’d remembered — and he’d been eagerly awaiting her return.

“That was a wonderful experience,” she says. “When I visit, some of the kids I taught who are now men will return to see me and come and paint with me.”

This past summer, she spent several weeks in Madagascar teaching children ages 10 and up in the rainforests of Ranomafana National Park, home to 13 lemur species.

Over the years, Ross’ paintings of lemurs and other wildlife in that region have led to assignments with “Natural History Magazine” — her illustration of a fat-tailed lemur appeared on one of its covers — and collaborations with the Lemur Conservation Foundation, for which she illustrated a series of children’s books with primatologist Dr. Allison Jolly.

The books have become central to conservation efforts in Madagascar, where slash and burn agriculture and illegal activities such as gold mining lead to erosion and water shortages that ultimately affect the survival of wildlife in Ranomafana, as well as the preservation of the forests.

Ross blends painting instruction with conservation education in her workshops.

One of the books Ross illustrated with primatologist Dr. Allison Jolly

It is vital, she believes, that the children have a sense of their own ecological identity and the role they can play in preserving the forest habitats where they live.

As a Scatter Joy Art Ambassador, she not only was able to provide art supplies for her workshops over the summer. She also used some of her grant money to help launch a new art curriculum in 12 Malagasy villages in partnership with the School of Visual Arts in the fall.

“I just want these kids to be proud of themselves and get confidence,” she says, “because I know how tricky their lives are going to be.”

The mission remains, the vision expands

Kathy Davis has always been interested in helping to inspire others to find and share joy through the arts. That passion has been a driving force throughout her career as the founder of her namesake greeting card and lifestyle brand.

It was also what fueled the launch of the Scatter Joy Center for the Arts, a nonprofit that made arts programming accessible to all through community classes, exhibits and live performance

That brick and mortar art center may have closed its doors but Scatter Joy still lives on, embodying Kathy’s mission to support the arts. Our social media continues to deliver inspiration and wisdom across multiple arts disciplines while encouraging the individual pursuit of creativity. And our art center now exists as a virtual philanthropic entity.

“Since my days as a high school art teacher, I have seen first-hand the way that art helps to enrich lives. And since then I have been fortunate to discover a career where I can use my creativity to help touch others’ lives in a positive way,” says Kathy. “I truly believe that art makes a difference.”

Scatter Joy continues to do just that with its Scatter Joy Ambassador program, recognizing the individuals and organizations nurturing creativity and using the arts to make an impact in communities not typically exposed to such resources. Its outreach will span local to international efforts.

Already, it has sponsored its first international grant to renowned wildlife artist and teacher Deborah Ross to fund art supplies for children in Madagascar. You can read more about Deborah and her philanthropic outreach in an upcoming blog post.

“While it was thrilling to watch our fledgling arts center make a difference in our own community,” says Kathy, “I am now excited about expanding my vision from local to global.”

Stay tuned to learn more about our upcoming philanthropic commitments and to see how you might play a role in contributing to the good we hope to inspire.

High school freshman Rose Elizabeth to share original songs from new album in debut performance at art center

 

At only 14 years old, Rose Elizabeth, a freshman at Villa Joseph Marie High School, is releasing her debut EP. The budding singer-songwriter, who overcame her fear of singing in public by appearing in several musicals in grade school, will deliver her biggest performance yet when she headlines a concert at the Scatter Joy Center for the Arts on Feb. 11 to celebrate the release of her new country album.

Read more

An eggshell as his canvas: Eli Bockol channels love of pattern and design into pysanky art

 

imageIt’s a tradition reaching back to antiquity. When Ukrainians first began decorating Easter eggs, the folk art expression known as pysanky was symbolic of creation. The egg was not only considered the source of life but depending on the designs and dyes used to adorn it often served as a talisman or a token of good luck.

Eli Bockol was in college when he saw a televised demonstration of pysanky one Easter. Intrigued by the history, he was even more fascinated by the opportunity to explore geometric design and patterns with the ancient art form. And he’s been creating these batik-style eggs ever since. 

Read more

Lessons from a creative entrepreneur: To fail is to know the measure of our greatness

 

When Sarah Van Aken decided to shutter her contemporary, socially conscious fashion brand SA VA in 2013 after four years, she did so with a transparency, candor and even celebration perhaps unheard of in the industry. There were press releases to the media in which she spoke frankly of her challenges raising capital and equally forthcoming interviews where she acknowledged the personal sacrifices made in pursuit of success. She invited customers new and old to an impressive blow-out sale and cleared the way for fresh energy in her life with a  farewell party in honor of all she’d achieved. 

Read more

Advice from a college senior: how to build and maintain your confidence as a young designer

 

portrait-deanna-blackToday, our Kutztown University Communication Design Illustration Showcase opens in our farmhouse, featuring the work of more than 30 students in the program. We’re highlighting their work in honor of Kutztown alumna Kathy Davis, founder of the Scatter Joy Center for the Arts.

Our guest blogger this week is Upper Moreland High School graduate Deanna Black, a senior graphic designer and illustrator in the school of Communication Design, who will have several pieces on display during the exhibit. 

Read more

10 Things No One Tells You About Design Majors

 

This week, we have a guest blog from North Penn High School graduate Rebecca Murray. Rebecca, who lives in Hatfield, attends Kutztown University and is one of 37 students from the school’s Communication Design program whose work will be exhibited in our September gallery show, opening on the 23rd. 

Read more

5 Myths about Being an Artist — Debunked

 

Myths about what it means to pursue the artist’s path have been around for as long as artists have been creating. From their perfectionist tendencies and eccentric personalities to the moody temperaments and chaos that can inspire (and also derail) their forms of expression, these stereotypes persist despite the diversity of artists working today and the many insights into their process that they willingly reveal.

Lisa and Robert Papp have heard their fair share of such assumptions. Both successful artist who live in Bucks County — Lisa is an author and illustrator and Robert a fine artist and illustrator — the husband and wife have, in forging their individual career paths, disproved perhaps one of the most popular myths, that of the starving artist. 

Read more

Illustrator Dan Fione on embracing the conundrum of his work

 

This month, our gallery show features Harleysville illustrator and artist Dan Fione. A freelance illustrator for more than 30 years, Fione has created art for National Geographic, TV Guide Magazine, the National Park Service and Goya, among other notable clients. His illustrations in pen and ink, acrylic and mixed media have been featured in a multitude of designs from advertising campaigns and children’s books to materials for food and medical products. 

Read more
1 2 3 6