Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Releasing the Artist Within

Mud Spun Arts Center Offers Spring Workshops

Most artists would probably admit their art has taken a back seat to living their busy lives; caring for their families and advancing in their careers. Lucky is the artisan who is able to enjoy true freedom in making a living doing what they love. Also fortunate are those who are able to weave their art into their everyday lives. Becky Laliberte, owner of Mud Spun Arts Center, has done just that.

Laliberte, with her builder husband Martin, owns Swift River Commons (formerly known as Village Square Shops) on Daniel Shays Highway in Belchertown. Their property is home to small businesses like Amp Works, Real Fitness and Liberty Nails, to name a few.

Encouraged by her husband, Laliberte was able to carve out a space in their building to house her pottery wheel and kiln.

“Over the years, all of my studio time has been spent in a basement, either at home or in college. So having this new studio space, with its abundance of natural light provides so much inspiration,” said Laliberte.

Since the spring of 2007, Laliberte has been putting her studio to good use and making the necessary plans to open the arts center. The official opening will be this spring, when Mud Spun offers their six-week workshops for adults and teens.

Still in the planning stages for 2008 is an art and music festival to be held on the green behind the property on Daniel Shays Highway. It would include a showing of art from the various instructors, as well as other artists, a sampling of live music presented by Amp Works, and a possible “taste of art” for those who would like to try their hand at making a mini-masterpiece. Interested artists can e-mail photos of their work to Becky at Mud Spun.


Back in high school, Laliberte discovered pottery during art class and has been drawn to it ever since. “I’ve continued to work with clay on and off over the years. It’s a gentle, quiet voice always calling me back,” Laliberte said.

Laliberte earned a Bachelors’ degree in art at Elms College and values art as a staple of the human condition.

“Art is such an important part of our culture and our existence. The earliest recordings we have, as a people, are in art,” Laliberte said.
Her secondary degree, in education, has allowed Laliberte to make a living as a teacher. Although not an art teacher, she taught elementary school in Chicopee for five years.

By offering art classes in her new studio, Laliberte finds a balance that she hasn’t quite accomplished until now.

“The center evolved out my desire to have a place to practice my own art and as a way to bridge my background in art with my background as a teacher,” Laliberte said.


Laliberte’s vision for the center is to provide an opportunity for people to learn something new from instructors who are willing to share art in a fun, friendly and relaxed environment.

“I see the studio as a place to immerse yourself in the process as you explore art,” Laliberte said.

Laliberte hopes to realize her vision as an artist and a teacher by providing the community with an opportunity for art enrichment. By offering workshops, individual instruction and fun get-togethers, participants can explore different forms of the arts.

“I’m so excited about the center,” Laliberte said. “I’ve been very fortunate to find talented artists who share this vision and actually have the time to teach a workshop.”


The following six-week spring workshops will begin in early March and run through late June. Each workshop is offered once a week for six weeks on a specific day, at a set time. Materials and use of tools are included.

Clay Tile Making, instructed by Becky Laliberte, will cover the basics of how to prepare clay, construct slabs, alter surfaces and explore various methods of relief carving. Participants will complete glazed, fired tiles that can be displayed as works of art or installed as functional decorative tiles.

Elements of Drawing, instructed by Jennifer Sinclair, will help sharpen participants’ abilities to decipher different values, identify and represent light sources, and employ perspective. Each class will focus on a different drawing element.

Beaded Jewelry Design, instructed by Deanna Roux, will encourage participants to explore basic beading skills, while designing and creating wearable art out of glass, metal, leather and wire. Each class will focus on a different technique and will yield at least one piece of jewelry.

Woodcarving, instructed by Elton Braithwaite, will touch upon the cultures of Africa and the Caribbean as they relate to woodcarving, while teaching the skills of ancient woodcarving. Braithwaite, a natural story teller, will encourage students to develop patience and concentration as they execute an original relief carving.

Interested participants should contact Mud Spun or go online to register at


This summer, Mud Spun will offer a children’s art camp to give kids a deeper appreciation of art. Students will look at some of the great masters and study the different colors and mediums that were used.

“A lot of towns are having to eliminate art; something that makes for a much more diversified education. This art camp will be an opportunity for people who want more options for their children,” explained Laliberte.

Laliberte encourages artists (or artists in hiding) to listen to their inner voice and come explore their artistic talents.

“I think the world we live in sometimes robs us of our individual passions,” Laliberte said. “It gives me great satisfaction to be able to help another artist rediscover that.”

Reprinted with permission from The Sentinel, Turley Publications.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


My sweet kitty is all white with one blue eye and one golden eye.

He LOVES to be near us but HATES to be touched.

We've decided that he has a touch of OCD. The minute someone pets him or picks him up, his mouth gets ready to clean his fur. As soon as he escapes, he scurries away and gives himself a thorough bath.

Oliver James is always so impressed.

Oh, and he likes to sniff our toes...for a long time.

Can you provide a good caption for this photo? Add a comment and let me know your clever cutline.


Where do you find inspiration? This is an interesting query to me. I always ask this of other artists. Common responses seem to be: materials, nature, emotions and people.

Material Girl

Sometimes my materials are an inspiration. Like when I helped my son with a grade-school project. He had to make an unusual hat. We went “shopping” down in my craft room. We found tiny colorful rubber bands, and small wooden beads. Can’t remember how, but we made a musical hat. A string hung about ear level on each side of his head. When he pulled the string from side to side, the hat strummed like a guitar (if it were made out of rubber bands).

Nature's Bounty

Nature is so vast and is what lends itself to a ton of art I see: trees, oceans, leaves, birds, rocks, fruit, and so on. You see it in paintings, drawings, pottery, jewelry, everywhere.

And who could forget nature’s presence in poetry.


I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

~ Joyce Kilmer

Emotion Commotion

When I was heavily into writing poetry, emotions were what guided my pen. When my emotions were in turmoil or at the very highest of highs, I wrote a ton. But when I was in a content place emotionally, I’d be at a loss when I'd sit down to write

Personally Speaking

In my current work at the newspaper, people are what inspire me. I enjoy having a meaningful conversation with my subject and uncovering what makes them unique and just like everyone else. Everyone has a story to tell. How someone became a small business owner is always related back to the person’s life story. I think articles are much more interesting to read (and to write) when you can learn about the person behind the scene.

My Inspirational Spot

(click photo to enlarge)

In jewelry design, I gain inspiration from all things: a beautiful painting, my kid’s art, a piece of glass, my sisters, a stone or my excitement for creating things I love. My studio space is full of visual inspiration – post cards that I pick up at art galleries, my jewelry sketches on scraps of paper, an animated butterfly an old boss gave me, a Waterford crystal seashell a friend gave me commemorating our trip to St. Thomas, and of course all of my sterling and gemstone components that I shopped oh so meticulously for.

So, where do you find inspiration? Add a comment to this article and let me know. Your inspiration doesn't have to be about art. Maybe you draw on inspiration for other things in your life. Sometimes I seek inspiration just to make dinner.


I've been invited to join Art Walk Easthampton. It's something I've been considering for a while but couldn't fit in. Last year I did more than 15 venues, including Marketplace@Eastworks, one of the stops on this walk and where I'll be showing.

This year I'm cutting back to just the finest art shows. So that's why I am officially signed up to show at this incredible event. It's the second Saturday of each month and is from 5-8 p.m. - perfect substitute for the (somewhat lathargic) movie scene.

More than a dozen venues host visual, musical and performance art in an energetic sampling of local, regional and national talent. You can explore Easthampton's best galleries, shops, restaurants, pubs, and music and theater venues.

Located on Pleasant Street in Easthampton, this amazing old refurbished factory building has an open floor plan and is home to artisan studios, retailers and residents. The first floor (street level) is where you'll find cute little shops and boutiques and where resident artisans show their wares.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


Drawing in a Winner

To attract some attention to my blog (and to the charity bracelet project), last December I had a drawing for those who joined my mailing list. But I needed to drive folks there.

So I hit the Etsy forums and proceeded to post the bracelet, my blog and my shop in any forum I could find (related or not). I did this for a few days until I received a lovely-worded e-mail from Etsy Admin stating that some people might consider this spam.

Luckily, I had already received a ton of hits so I gracefully and apologetically bowed out of the forums for a while. I sincerely didn't think of it as spam until the admin mentioned it and I am sorry if I annoyed any of you.

Anyhoo, I did have enough participants to hold an official drawing. A person by the name of S. Thompson won and chose one of my festive Holiday Bells On magnetic pins. Thanks to all for participating!

Writing for My Dinner

Woo-hoo! I am so excited to get a regular paycheck for something that I love to do - write! I've written and had published ten (or so) articles in my local paper, The Sentinel. It's a great little community paper. My articles are about local businesses that have either just started out or have major change afoot. I enjoy getting to know the people behind the business and sharing, through my article, what made them who they are.

I Gotta Get the Numbas!

"Did you do the numbers yet?" "Are you gonna get me the numbers this weekend?" The numbers. The numbers. The numbers!! Argh! I hate numbers. It's not that I can't do it. It's just that it's such a process!! But yes, I finally did it. I figured out what Fancy Free Me spent last year - all the Etsy and Paypal fees, post office costs, jewelry supplies, event costs. And all that we took in - customer sales at shows, Etsy, gallery venues - all of it!

I got him (my sweet, bean-counting hubby) the numbas! Phewf.

So you wanna know? How'd I do in 2007? Well, I can only say this, I had a 200% growth rate. That's good right?!

Here are some numbers I can share:

  • 2 - number of galleries that represent my work

  • 17 - number of times I packed up my gig, showed, sold and packed it all back up and brought it home.

  • 72 - number of merchants, venues, artists I paid for goods, fees or services

  • 175 - number of revenue sources - customers, sales, etc.
  • FIVE QUESTIONS FOR................... ARTIST DEBORAH SPRAGUE.........


    Deborah grew up watching over her two younger sisters. Her family moved quite a bit when she was young – from coast to coast and back again – until they settled into a small New England town. She spent her high school years in that small town and made many special friends.

    Deborah has two handsome boys – one currently in Army Special Ops Training and one studying to be a fire fighter. She has spent the past several (almost ten) years with a wonderful man, with whom she recently exchanged wedding vows.

    Anyone who knows her would say Deborah has a passionate and caring spirit. Always a good friend, she’s willing to lend an ear or a hand whenever needed. Her character has lended itself to her art. Deborah’s paintings reveal her emotions and point of view in a very pure way. Her art is not guided by technical strokes or channeling other artists. It’s guided by what’s inside.

    I hope you enjoy the words and art of my beautiful sister, Deborah Sprague.


    droux: When did you realize you were an artist?

    dlsprague: My first love comes from appreciating nature and the beauty in it, and the feeling that it brings to me. I never thought of myself as being creative or talented, but envied those who are. When my children were older I had some time on my hands to spend in museums and galleries with the new love of my life. I found that the feeling I would get when looking at a beautiful piece of art was the same as when I was in nature. It was a real connection for me. I figured what the heck, I'll purchase some supplies and try it out. I just wanted the feeling of creating. I wasn’t expecting perfection or anything. It was really about the process - a journey. From there, my husband encouraged me to continue and gave me art lessons at the Boston MFA as a birthday gift. It was so inspiring to be surrounded by great works and then to be surrounded by other students who were also learning. I continued to take classes in oil and pastel. Some day, I hope to think of myself as an artist - but I love the journey.

    droux: Where do you find inspiration?

    dlsprague: I find my inspiration in nature; I love the colors of the natural world - the greens, golds, blues and the reds. I love to look at other artists' work; I love texture and thick brush strokes and vivid colors

    droux: What was the first piece of art you ever created?

    dlsprague: When I was about eight, I made a puppet out of paper and crayons for my little sister for Christmas. I loved giving it to her.

    droux: What is your favorite medium?

    dlsprague: That’s a hard question. I recently learned to paint with pastel so that is what I'm doing right now the most. I love the intense colors you get with pastel and the fact that I can leave it out and work on a piece when I can get to it. I love oils too; how you can put it on thick and be creative with mixing your colors. AND I really enjoy doing mixed media pieces with acrylic. This technique opens the door to doing pieces that are so different.

    droux: How do you feel about parting with your art?

    dlsprague: First I get nervous. I hope the person I give a piece to really likes it or at least appreciates it. When I'm doing a piece, if I know I'm giving it to someone in particular, I really think a lot about that person when I'm working on it. Since I don't live right next door to my family, it is a nice way to stay in touch - even if it is only in my mind. I love to give my art to my husband. He really loves my work and that I express myself in this way.

    Deborah lives in New Hampshire with her husband Wayne, her two boys (when they're not at school, working or in training), and their black lab, Summer.

    Coming Soon: Look for her art on display at my Etsy shop!

    Invitation: Please leave a comment and tell me what you think about Deborah's art seen above (first two are pastels; last one is oil) - you can click on the photos to enlarge.

    Saturday, February 9, 2008

    Mud Spun Arts Center Opens in Belchertown

    What is this? Deanna Roux, instructor?

    Yes, that's what I said, sista (or brotha - whatever the case may be).

    Okay, slow down droux. You're getting a little ahead of yourself. Do you want the long version or the short version? ... Just what I figured. Fine, short version it is.

    A woman, by the name of Becky Laliberte (a mom and a potter), decided to open an arts center in our sweet little town called Mud Spun Arts Center. She carved out a spot in a building she owns - really a strip mall. (P.S. It's the same strip mall where my kids take music lessons and I had put my business card up on the music shop's bulletin board.)

    Becky lined up several artists to instruct 6-week workshops for adults. She was looking to fill a jewelry making slot when she came across my business card at the music shop.

    See, I can do short version.

    The arts center is currently conducting open registration for the following:

    ~Elements of Drawing
    ~Clay Tile Making
    ~Beaded Jewelry Design

    Mud Spun also offers:

    ~"Clay with Us" Get Together
    ~Individual Potter's Wheel Instruction
    ~Art Camp for Kids
    ~Oil Painting Workshop

    Check out the Mud Spun registration form for all the details, including dates, times, and very reasonable prices.

    Oh, and did I tell you? I'm instructing a workshop!


    Back in October I became interested in the work of Harmony Outreach, a 501(c) (3), non-profit organization, that literally saves abandoned babies in China. It’s run by an American couple, John and Lisa Bentley, who live in China with their six children. They took a huge leap of faith when they moved from their safe and predictable life to one quite the opposite.

    I’ve communicated with them via e-mail for the past four months and have found myself looking at their photos, reading the many articles about their work and even listening to interviews that Lisa has given to a radio show – all to both confirm and understand their work.

    John and Lisa live just outside of Beijing, China together with their six children Emily, Ian, Orly, Oliver, Reid and Levi.


    Their story is a long one. But the short version is:

    • A slightly germ phobic mother of four young children is asked by her lawyer husband to go from living the American dream to an uncertain life in China.

    • She reluctantly agrees to a short trial period.

    • Many heart-wrenching trials, two adopted children and several years later, Lisa and John have no plans of leaving their ‘new’ home.


    “A six-week old, badly burned baby is left to die in a field. The villagers stand around staring, unwilling to burden themselves with the responsibility of helping him. Despite its heartbreaking beginning, this remarkable story has an ending that's full of hope and inspiration.”

    Learn the rest of their story here in an interview Lisa gave to In Touch Magazine.

    Lisa goes on to write her first book, Saving Levi, which tells of her and John’s struggles and triumphs after their decision to help this dying baby. Later, Levi is the first child to be adopted into their family.


    That was the title of my first e-mail to Lisa and John – “I want to help.” Simple. After reading the article in In Touch, which literally brought me to tears, I didn’t just want to help – I needed to help.

    Sometimes when you gain knowledge, you also gain responsibility. I’ve always had a strong urge to help people who need help. Not people who want help or people who behave like they need help – but people who really have very little means of helping themselves. When I see that in someone, there’s no way I can turn away.

    I decided to help by creating and selling a bracelet that symbolizes Chinese adoption. My husband Bob agreed to put up a few hundred dollars so I could purchase the supplies for the bracelet. November 12, 2007, the first day the bracelet was in my online shop, I sold two. The first week, I sold four. Our goal of selling thirty bracelets was reached before Christmas.


    We are so happy and proud to report that through the sale of this symbolic bracelet we have been able to donate over $750 to Harmony Outreach. We have chosen to have the funds go directly to Baby Hope, who was in need of heart surgery but didn’t have the entire cost covered. Her surgery is now completely paid for thanks to the thirty folks who have purchased this beautiful symbol for their loved ones and for themselves. Hope’s surgery was just a few weeks ago. I’m told she’s back at Harmony House and doing very well.

    Hope - Ling Qianxu

    Through this work, I’ve been able to meet so many wonderful people. Many of whom were willing to share their personal journals and photographs – all devoted to their journey to adopt a baby from China; many who are still on their journey, some sad, some anxious, but all ever hopeful. My customers (they feel like more than customers really) tell me the bracelet has such meaning to them and they fill my e-mailbox with special messages of thanks. But it is really them who deserve the thanks. They are the ones who are helping the world, one child at a time.


    Word has gotten around about the bracelet, so instead of abandoning the bracelet project, Bob and I decided to sponsor a child from Harmony House. Hope is completely sponsored, so we turned our attention to the other 32 children in the orphanage.

    Helen - Wang Xinrui

    A portion of the sale of each bracelet will go to help sponsor sweet little Helen - Wang Xinrui. Helen will turn five years old this year and is described as having a love of performing. She does not like sitting in a chair for long unless she’s drawing or reading a cartoon book. It was difficult to choose who to sponsor, because all the children really tug at our heartstrings. We chose Helen because her name holds a special meaning in our family. Look at her photo – she looks so happy and sweet!


    A lot of gratitude and appreciation goes out to the many families who have adopted babies from China, sponsor a special little one from China or are waiting for their angel to be delivered safely into their family. You are truly making a difference in our world by saving lives from a land not seen - out of pure love and faith.


    You can read all about Harmony Outreach and the progress of the bracelet project, by searching my blog for the word “hope.” (see the word "Labels" at the bottom of this article - click on the word "hope")

    Please learn more about the needs of many children in China as well as Chinese adoptions by visit Harmony Outreach online at