The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia


September 18, 2013

The Art of Relaxation

Blackbird House offers the ultimate wind-down

Had I been a little farther south of the Mason-Dixon line Thursday night, I might have exclaimed, “Well, shut my mouth and paint me relaxed!” Rewind back to when Blackbird House co-owners, mother-daughter team Sue Dameron and Kelly Greco, invited me to a “Paint the Town Red” event at their new location on Stanaford Road. I and about 15 other painters, novice and more advanced, descended to the comfortable space of the building’s lower floor, an open yet intimate landing, where there were bite-sized pumpkin muffins, crudité and other finger foods along with samples of wine (for the partakers) from Blackbird House’s upstairs stock. Beyond, spaced rows of blank canvases and paint palettes waited for our imaginations and a little expert guidance. It was an opportunity to create in a way most of us hadn’t since high school.

Before art arrived, Dameron and Greco expanded within one year from filling wine and cheese basket orders to a full-on wine and cheese specialty store with scheduled tastings. Since art arrived as entertainment, an already bustling business has revved up a few notches more by offering the ultimate wind-down.

“That’s exactly how I feel about it,” Greco exclaimed at the topic of the unexpected relaxing quality of putting brush to canvas.  “For two and a half or three hours, you can get away from your busy life and the stress relief is amazing. The biggest problem is not dipping your paintbrush in the wine glass.”

Greco should know about the calming quality of art projects. She’s a Raleigh County first grade teacher with 16 years experience instructing kids. Thinking back, the addition of painting events, to a teacher especially, just made sense.

After opening Blackbird as a specialty basket shop only on Eisenhower Drive in October, then moving to a bigger space almost immediately to accommodate a growing interest in wine tastings, Greco listened as a friend described an event she’d attended in Charlotte — a wine and canvas class. Greco thought, “We could do that.” So she consulted art teachers she knew and encountered Linda Boyd, an elementary school art teacher, also in Raleigh County.  

Linda’s willingness to attempt teaching adults and her funny and easy going style made her the perfect leader for the weekly class, now seeing an average of 20 “students” each session.  “This is about doing something outside of the box. It’s not serious art, but it’s addicting,” advised Greco.

In two hours, Boyd sent a group of us ladies and one brave gentlemen to our happy place, even for those who didn’t know they had one. Complete with just the right amount of natural humor (her “I like big brushes and I cannot lie” rendition of a Sir Mix-A-Lot classic), Boyd guided our erratic confidence levels through to completing an authentic-looking Tuscan landscape. I was skeptical on two counts, first that I’d make it out and back to the kids in two hours without the usual panic attack. Second, that my painting would look much better than the reader entries for my first grader’s Highlights magazine. I was enjoyably wrong, and I should’ve known better. We washed the canvas in blue and white acrylic sky. We non-engineering types somehow muted the mistakes in our villa rooflines and no one was the wiser. We were out as scheduled, without being rushed or belabored. Following intermittent laughter and pensive quiet, where each became focused on her (or his) own work, we said our pleasant goodbyes, a few new friends made, wearing our painted hands home like trophies.

The same formula for success making Blackbird House’s weekly painting sessions popular is also making it a destination for private painting parties and wine tastings, with endless possibilities for adults. For kids, the same painting format offered during special kids’ classes translates into birthday or special occasion parties.

No one, young or old, stresses over painting, unless it’s the home improvement variety. Quite the opposite — it’s where many here now find respite.

“We have a lady who comes here every week. She takes care of her mother who has dementia. This is her one evening out. She doesn’t drink, so it isn’t about the wine. She comes to paint,” said Greco.

There’s something very Zen-like about taking a brush, dipping it in a few colors and laying it all out on the canvas — it’s like a light attracting whatever’s bugging you, then confining it to another dimension. And then, there’s the art — the product of your emotion and energy, displayed proudly on your wall to remind you that, at least for a couple of hours, you accomplished something out of your ordinary.

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