Recently, I sat down at the Washington Studio School with Laila Abdu-Hadi Jadallah, Managing Director, and Jill Phillips, Head of Faculty, in Laila’s sunny office, to learn more about the school’s mission, and the different programs offered to local students and artists.
The history of Washington Studio School starts around World War II. In this time, a group of art intellectuals and enthusiasts met in the attic of the Phillips Collection to discuss art and its progression. They started registering new students, and taught classes in the “Studio House”, located behind the museum. As the Phillips Collection expanded to the studio space, the group relocated to American University (AU) and developed the art department. Ultimately, in 1985, Washington Studio School was founded as a nonprofit institution by Lee Newman and Joey Kossow to provide one-off classes and a certificate program for local residents wishing to learn the fundamental skills for drawing, painting and sculpture. Washington Studio School is located in a 1909 townhome in the quaint Kalorama neighborhood. Interestingly, the building was designed by Nathan C. Wyeth who also is credited for designing the first Oval Office in the White House during Taft’s presidency as well as the Old Senate and House Office buildings.
Today, the school’s mission is “to teach the visual language and the skills essential to developing and expressing a personal vision.” To fulfill their mission Washington Studio School offers a variety of classes, workshops, and drop-in figure drawing sessions, limiting enrollment to 12 students per course. In our conversation, Jadallah and Phillips expanded on the concept of a “visual language”, and how it is embodied at the Washington Studio School. For many, learning to communicate visually can be incredibly difficult and daunting; yet, when the students are able to begin sharing their emotions through this visual language, the expressions, thoughts, and feelings are unparalleled to spoken word. A wide range of students enroll at the school, bringing with them differing backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. This allows for a diverse community among the students and faculty. Jadallah and Phillips also highlighted that students and faculty are continuously finding ways to explore their artistic interests, even beyond the classroom. For example, a group of students interested in sharpening their artistic skills recently created an extracurricular group, called “Landscape Meet Up”, that focuses on landscape painting and drawing.
Although Washington Studio School’s coursework concentrates on traditional techniques, the faculty encourages students to be progressive and to express themselves however they’d prefer. The faculty places a major emphasis on the process of making art versus worrying about a “perfect” final product. Faculty also stresses the importance of artistic process as an individual learning experience. To achieve this end, through coursework, faculty ensures the facilitation of group critiquing sessions, giving the students real time feedback and encouragement.
Aside from the numerous courses offered at Washington Studio School, the organization also provides studio space for student artists post-certificate who are transitioning out of the classroom, but still desire the communal and collaborative environment of the school. As Phillips pointed out, “painting and making art can be an incredibly solitary activity, and so having studio space with other artists allows the option immediate feedback and assistance, when needed.”
On the first floor of the building, Washington Studio School also holds exhibitions. Building on the mission of the school itself, the goal of the curated shows is to vary the kinds of artwork presented, bringing both traditional and progressive artworks. For example, currently on view are recent works from the two founders of the school, Joey Kossow and Lee Newman, celebrating the school’s lasting effects on both faculty and students. Shifting from more traditional work, the next planned exhibition will have larger works that are more abstract. The school exhibits various works, including student artwork, mid-career artists, and established artists.
Reflecting on its mission statement, Washington Studio School has become a safe and encouraging space for artists, both young and old, to learn foundational art skills and pursue their artistic journey, wherever it may take them.
For more information about the Washington Studio School and their classes, workshops, and exhibitions, visit http://www.washingtonstudioschool.org/. You can also visit in person Monday-Friday 10:00am-4:00pm and by appointment at 2129 S Street, NW, Washington, DC 20008.