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Pastel daydreams of youth

A Medford workshop for children proves that art isn't always the realm of 'still' life

Much like the universe itself as described by physicists, a children's art workshop dances at a fine edge between order and chaos. Teachers know this, of course, but Jack Larson, the guy introducing a dozen kids to the world of pastels, is an amateur artist and retired engineer.

I enjoy kids, the Applegate resident says. But I'm shooting from the hip here.

The youngsters have shown up for Larson's class at the Valley Art Gallery on Medford's downtown Middleford Alley, one of an ongoing series in this old, high-ceilinged space with the big north windows and the brick walls.

We think children need to be exposed to art, gallery director Betty Dentry says.

Larson puts up an illustration of a pre-Zuni fetish from Arizona and asks kids to draw the stubby, broad-faced figure once believed to possess magical powers. This proves a bit of a tough sell, with some young artists indicating an aesthetic preference for, say, dog portraits or monkeys. Several question the figure's realism.

Remember, Larson says. It's 1,000 years old.

In an aside, he moans, I think I'm losing them.

He wants to be an artist, Isaac Martinez, 9, of Medford, says of his 6-year-old brother Aaron, a bundle of energy in a T-shirt adorned by a gecko.

I don't want to be an artist anymore, Aaron says.

Larson encourages youngsters to express themselves. It doesn't have to be perfect.

Hey, that's good, he says to Aaron. I thought you didn't want to be an artist.

I don't, Aaron says. But I know how to draw really good.

Larson lauds pastels for their immediacy.

You don't have to fool around with turpentine and stuff, he says.

Alyssa Brown, 11, of Shady Cove, creates a rough fetish shape and is soon working to define and blend the colors of a mysterious yellow face and a torso washed in turquoise.

Others struggle with the fetish concept.

I don't wanna make this, Aaron announces.

Isaac suggests a fetish alternative, perhaps a pumpkin.

Larson praises Alyssa's neo-realistic fetish, as well as 8-year-old Amanda Rettmann's impressionistic take on the fetish theme.

Meanwhile, fetish alternatives are popping up: dogs, houses, turkeys.

Aaron has either discarded the fetish theme or, like the famed neoplasticist Th?o Van Doesburg, abstracted it to new levels, with the merest of brown horizontal lines now separating floating turquoise fields.

The fetish pictures themselves are a mixed bag: ghost fetishes, gingerbread man fetishes, muppet-like creatures.

Dentry admires the sweep of Alyssa's, saying, She's very good.

Artistic breakouts continue. Ariel Albright, 10, has opted for a happy dachshund with a Snoopy-esque nose. Twelve-year-old Kristen Albright has created a smiling cat in a sunny back yard and is at work on a stylized baboon.

Aaron, meanwhile, has entered an apparent pumpkin phase, perhaps his Orange Period.

Alyssa Brown, 11, of Shady Cove gets a tip for using pastels from artist Jack Larson during his art class for kids Saturday at Valley Art Gallery in Medford. Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Mail Tribune Jim Craven