Artist and pre-school teacher open Squirrel Hill studio for children to paint

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop, The Tribune-Review, Greensburg
·3 min read

Apr. 17—Tucked away on a Squirrel Hill back street, the top level of a two-story parking garage hums with activity — not that of cars, but of little hands, messing with paint.

In the converted garage space, Laura Wagner and Kevin Wenner opened Raw Space Art in January with the motto "Creativity Uninhibited ... Art Unrefined." They describe the program as "a creative healing platform for children of all ages."

Wenner, an artist originally from Cleveland, lives in Squirrel Hill. Wagner, of Hampton, has written children's books and is a teacher at Saints Martha & Mary Early Learning Center (formerly known as St. Catherine of Sweden Preschool) in Hampton.

The two have collaborated to bring art to the young and young at heart. They offer painting sessions between 30-45 minutes for $45. Multiple classes are available at $40 each for those who sign up for a month or longer.

Part of the experience includes playing the child's favorite music and inviting youngsters just to have fun dancing and painting with brushes. They also have items such as sponges and circular objects dripping with paint. The kids press the items against a poster-size piece of paper on the wall to create shapes and figures. They can use their hands to paint.

They use acrylic paint and stress to children who engage to "dress for a mess."

"The paint won't come out of their clothes, but the kids are washable," said Wagner.

There are even tools to throw paint onto the blank canvas.

"We want them to really reach down into their core to create," Wenner said. "We feed the lion and bring it out in them. Most emotions are bigger than life. When you paint, there is so much power going through your body."

They provide games for kids to play who accompany their siblings but don't want to paint.

"All kids can do this and find success because there are no rules," said Wagner. "This is a safe place to feel free and get their emotions out appropriately. There are no mistakes and no judging. There are no rules."

On a recent Friday, Baron Deah, 5, was painting with his friend and Wagner's son, Anthony Bondi, 5.

"It makes me feel funny and free," Deah said.

"It feels good to paint," Bondi said.

Baron's 1-year-old brother, Kaiser, also joined in the fun. He ended up with paint on his clothes and face.

Their mother, Melissa Deah, of Hampton, said this is such a welcome outlet for little ones.

"It's a very nice healthy way to express themselves," said Melissa Deah, who also took a turn at painting . "It builds character and allows them a chance to be creative. When you see their paintings you can tell what kind of day they are having and how they are feeling."

Both 5-year-olds were dancing as they painted.

"They love to do it because they don't know how it will turn out," Wenner said. "They don't know what is going to happen. It's the unpredictability of it that is the fun of it. It reaches their creative side."

Painting allows people to release tensions and it can help keep you healthy, Wenner said.

They chose the name because a raw space symbolizes the raw space in your mind when you make art — transferring what you feel onto the paper. Wagner and Wenner bring more than 50 combined years of art and teaching expertise. They said they want to share their knowledge.

"Each painting session provides the tools, space, and freedom to express themselves that doesn't always happen in every day life," said Wenner. "Art is for everybody. This space is open to anyone who wants to experience it."

Details: Raw Space Art is located at 5800 Alderson St. in Squirrel Hill, Suite 4.

Register through its Facebook page, by calling 724-939-0030 or emailing rawspaceart@gmail.com

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact JoAnne at 724-853-5062, jharrop@triblive.com or via Twitter .