HAMMOND — Throughout the year, the Hammond Regional Art Center hosts monthly art classes for young, aspiring artists, and each month the lessons offered are chosen from the wide variety of art forms.
The classes offer youths to experience artistic endeavors that most simply don’t think about when contemplating art, such as the class on wire art that was offered at the center in December.
Shayla Kelly, principal art teacher at the center, said over the course of the year she offers her students the opportunity to explore the many different genres that can be pursued by young artists.
“I try to give the students who come here each month the many different aspects of art that are available," she said. "Wire art is something that doesn’t usually come up in a discussion of art, but the use of wire in creating artistic objects goes all the way back to the Egyptians. Many prominent artists such as Alexander Calder and Ruth Asawa have gained international recognition for their art work configured with wire."
And that’s how Kelly began her class. She pointed out to her young charges that wire can be used to create jewelry, figures, decorative items and abstract constructions.
She said that working with wire can be a fun hobby and for some, a professional pursuit that can even be profitable. She explained that artists with imagination can fashion many different objects out of the use of simple wire.
Kelly explained to her students that wire comes in various sizes and that wire is classified by its diameter, technically referred to its gauge. Gauge is measured in inverse proportion with the larger the number of the gauge meaning the finer, or smaller, the wire.
She illustrated the various thickness of wire by showing students many different sizes of wire that she had brought to the class. Kelly said wire can be made of aluminum, bronze, copper and steel and can come in many colors. Among her samples were brilliant colors of wire, including gold, green, red, blue, purple, orange and the standard silver.
“The great thing about wire is that you can bend, shape it, twist it, join it, braid it, and make it do pretty much anything you want it do,” she told her students. To help make the wire respond to the wishes of the artist, Kelly said, some tools are helpful and necessary. She introduced the students to the tools of the trade, a variety of scissors, wire cutters, pliers, mallets and hammers and round objects that be used to help shape wire sculptures.
After her preliminary lecture on wire, the students were put to work on their own creations. Kelly passed out simple designs, most with a Christmas motif, and instructed the students to practice working with wire by following the lines on the design with strands of wire.
The youngsters quickly took to the task and carefully began making their own small creations with the wire.
Kelly, also a talented art teacher with the Tangipahoa Parish school system, said sharing her love of art with young students is a rewarding and always interesting career.
“Young people are really interested in art and they are eager to learn. When they first come to the art center they are not really sure what art is all about. However, once they get started, they really enjoy the experience. I think that young people are eager for the chance to be creative … they just need to be exposed to art and all the possibilities that it offers,” she said.
Kelly said young children who are interested in art don’t mind putting their phones and electronic games aside when given the chance to pursue art classes.
“It would probably surprise a lot of people but once exposed to art, the children seem to enjoy being creative more than they do playing with electronic games and devices,” she said.
Kelly said she wants her students to learn about many different avenues that can be pursued in the world of art. So far, this year she has offered classes in making letters, print making, weaving, book binding, paint pouring and flip book animation. In the summer, she offers sessions that offer even more adventures in the arts.
A native of Hammond, Kelly said she chose to come back home after years of study outside of Louisiana. She earned a bachelor’s degree in art at the Art Institute of California in San Francisco and then a master’s degree in art education from Boston University.
"I decided to come back home and I am happy that I did so. Sharing my love for art with others, especially the children, is a rewarding experience,” she said. “Art is not just about making characters or pretty pictures … it is about thinking beyond a concept and bringing it to life.”
Through her tutelage, she illustrated to her students that art can come from many wellsprings, even something as common, simple and mundane as wire. Her expectation is that the dozen students in her latest class will never again look at wire in the same way.
She hopes that they will now see wire as a potential medium that can be translated into something meaningful and special.