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Painting group members have brushes with greatness

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Cathy Dobson

Often it’s not enough to have the desire and the skill to paint. Sometimes you need the encouragement of others too.

That’s why, in 2000, seven art students at Lambton College formed their own painter group. With typical wit, they named themselves the 6 + 1 Art Group since they were six women and one man.

“We were all novices when we started taking watercolour classes at the college,” recalls Jack Keefe, now an established artist with numerous shows under his belt.

The college course was cancelled about a year into the program.

“There were some students who said that was it, they weren’t going to paint anymore,” said Beth Sills, another founding member. “So we needed to start a group.”

6 + 1 members have met weekly for 18 years at various venues and can now be found Thursday mornings at Grace United Church.

Just as the Group of Seven expanded beyond its founding members, 6 + 1 has grown to include 30 local artists. They paint together, critique each other’s work, go on excursions and prepare for shows together.

“We’ve put a maximum on it of 30 members,” said Shirley McFarlane, also one of the original seven.

“And we’ve got a waiting list. People are dying to join us but we haven’t got room.”

Most members studied painting at one time or another and several took art at university. Many hadn’t picked up a paintbrush for years before joining the group.

Being a 6 + 1 member means accepting group challenges. This month each member has to produce something with red to mark Valentine’s Day, and it means painting every week.

Membership also requires a big dose of compassion.

“We learn a lot from each other during the critiques but we’re always kind about it,” said McFarlane.

“Our members must agree to be copasetic and get along with everyone,” said Keefe.

Sills is more blunt. “It’s not okay to be mean when you critique,” she said.

Over the years, members have become fast friends and socialize often. Group activities are meant to inspire, and many have become thriving members of the local arts scene.

They frequently show their art, win awards and sell their work.

“My skills as an artist have increased 500% and my friendships have increased 1000%,” Keefe said. “There are many people who excel in our group.”

Examples of 6 + 1 work are currently hanging at The Watermark Village Bistro in Point Edward.

And several members are participating in an upcoming show at Gallery in the Grove March 11 – April 21. Della Fellows, Rozanne Leystra, Diane Nelles and Jack Keefe will be the featured artists at the public gallery’s Nature’s Portraits & Landscapes exhibition.


The Arts Journal reflects the cultural fabric of our community.  Contact Cathy with your story ideas at [email protected].


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