Those who appreciate the visual arts had the opportunity to watch four artists at work Saturday as the Arts Council of Livingston Parish hosted an open house at its center on Hummell Street.

The open house was the Arts Council’s contribution to Women’s Week conducted by the Women’s Council of Greater Baton Rouge Sept. 25-Oct. 4. One of the purposes of the special week was to showcase and share the strengths of women and women’s groups.

The four artists were painters Paulette Ferguson and Pat Zeller, jewelry designer Cherie Ducote-Breaux and fabric artist Mary Felder. The four are active in the Arts Council of Livingston Parish, a group that counts 65 members dedicated to creating and preserving an interest in both the visual and performing arts.

All four are professional artists whose creations are purchased by appreciative art collectors. At the same time, all say that they ply their crafts for the love of being creative and sharing their talents with appreciative audiences.

Discussing the role of visual arts in a community, Ferguson said, “Our Arts Center is not maintained just for the artists who work here, but for those who appreciate the arts. We have a number of people with various talents in the visual arts, including photographers. Our center is a place where we can introduce art to everyone, from children on up.

“We are here to answer questions of those who wonder about how art comes to be created,” she said. “Through our work we want to entertain those in the community who see the value of art.”

Ferguson paints with oils and her specialty is what she terms “direct painting.” She starts with a blank canvas and a palate full of paint and just starts translating her vision onto the canvas, she said. For visitors to the art show, she was painting a still life of three pears. Her models were three pears plucked randomly from a grocery shelf and deposited on a desk next to her easel. Ferguson, who has been associated with the Arts Council of Livingston Parish for many years, also paints portraits.

Ducote-Breaux is a self-taught jewelry maker who uses paper as the basis of most of her jewelry. She said her interest in making jewelry started when she joined the Baton Rouge Bead Society. She remembers that the group created origami boxes out of old wallpaper as gifts for residents of a battered women’s shelter.

“There was always some of the wallpaper left over so I started playing with it. Before long, I was making jewelry,” Ducote-Breaux said. She incorporates tightly wound paper into “jewels” which she coats and then attaches to chains or other metal media that support the creation. She also creates jewelry by painting images on large beads and pendants with finger nail polish.

Felder is an accomplished fiber artist who shows her creations at shows throughout the nation. Her works have been shown at both art and quilt shows. She is frequently invited to demonstrate her talents at art galleries and festivals.

“I am very pleased when those who appreciate fiber art purchase my creations; but I would do this even if I never sold a piece,” Felder said. “I take great joy in working with fabric and coming up with something that is really nice and will look great hanging on a home or office wall.”

Zeller works with oils, water colors and colored pencils to create her bright, charming paintings. She says that she enjoys the creative process and the opportunity to share her talents with those who appreciate art and the role that it plays in bringing beauty to the world.

All of the artists are adamant about wanting to share their talents and creations with others, especially young people. All expressed a desire to reach out to young people in an attempt to show them the need for, and importance of, the visual arts in a well-rounded life.

Aileen Hendricks, a retired professor from Southern University who was visiting the arts center, said the arts community is active in Livingston Parish.

“I have been an educator for many years and one unfortunate thing that I have noticed is that when the schools have to cut something out, the arts, both visual and performing, are the first to go,” she said. “We need to expand exposure to dance, music and the visual arts in our schools. If young people are not exposed to the arts they will never know whether or not they are interested in the arts.”

Hendricks said that she would like to see all academic disciplines tied to the arts in one way or another. This, she said, would give young students a chance to discover the joy of being creative.

The Arts Council of Livingston Parish makes a pro-active attempt to bring the arts to the schools whenever they are afforded the opportunity, members said. Through sponsorship funds and grants the council is able to present demonstrations from time to time in the schools.

Felder said that there is considerable support for emerging artists in Livingston Parish. Local businesses support the expansion of art education in the parish. Grants are a major source of funds for educational purposes. For example, a grant from the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival financially supported summer camps in Livingston Parish where art is taught.

The City of Denham Springs also supports the Council for the Arts in Livingston Parish and the council is allowed to use the center, owned by the city, through a cooperative endeavor agreement.

The Arts Council of Livingston Parish, members said, has maintained its arts center for more than a dozen years and artists anticipate that the council will continue to not only maintain, but grow and enhance an appreciation for the visual and performing arts into the future.