Norton Museum of Art's Sketchbook Thursdays Breeds New Masters to Music

Malissa Reese is the Program and Volunteer Coordinator at the Norton Museum of Art. For 14 years, she taught art at various private and public schools, community colleges, and art centers throughout Delaware and Maryland before coming to West Palm Beach.

"Artists have always studied works of art from the past," Reese, also an artist, points out. "That's a tradition that's existed for years, and when I worked with students, I told them I learned so much from studying other artists. You learn from other artists and synthesize their art into your own work." It is in this tradition that the museum created Sketchbook Thursdays.

If you travel to the Louve in Paris, the Tate Modern in London, or the Met in New York, you will see the kind of studying to which Reese refers. Sprawled out on on the floors of these reverent homes for the world's masterpieces are the masters of the future -- or just people who like to sketch.

They come with their sketch pads, their canvases, their pencils, their charcoals, and they copy the work of the artists who came before them. Sometimes, their goal is to duplicate the work as closely as possible. Other times, the idea is to turn a work on its head, interpret one school through another. How better to discover a master's secrets, than to walk in her footsteps.

Since last fall, Reese has been making sure that local and aspiring artists feel welcome finding their muse in the halls of the Norton with the monthly Sketchbook Thursdays taking place during the weekly Art After Dark.

"We meet in a different gallery each month. Last month we had our holiday celebration. I created a winter themed still life in our modern gallery and invited guests in to sketch it. This month, my theme will be portraiture in honor of the Annie Leibovitz exhibit, and I will have a live model in the gallery. People of all ages come from, seniors to kids, and quite often they'll come with a sketchbook. We're even starting to get regulars who come on a monthly basis. If they don't have art supplies, I give them pencils and paper and a clipboard to get started.

One of the things that I like about it, is it gives people a chance to slow down and investigate one piece of art and then I'm there to offer insights on drawing technique and suggestions."

She might even give you homework, like the patron she asked to draw three pictures and return the following week.

While guests are always welcome -- and even encouraged -- to find inspiration in the art on exhibit, Sketchbook Thursdays take that inspiration a step further. At 7 p.m. David Shelley and Bluestone will perform original blues and rock and occasional classics often with a reggae and world beat twist. Also playing will be a mix tape compilation of Annie Leibovitz's many photo subjects, from the Rolling Stones to P. Diddy.

So if the people-watching and live model aren't inspiring enough, perhaps you'll find your art in the music.

Art After Dark at the Norton Museum of Art, 1451 South Olive Avenue, West Palm Beach, 5 to 9 p.m. every Thursday. Sketchbook Thursdays is monthly at 6 p.m. Guided tours are available of Sylvia Plimack Mangold: Landscape and Trees at 5:30 p.m. or Annie Leibovitz at 6:30 p.m. The event is free, though you must pay admission to the museum: $12 for adults, $5 for students, and free for museum members and children 12 and younger. Call 561-832-5196, email [email protected], or visit

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Rebecca McBane is the arts and culture/food editor for New Times Broward-Palm Beach. She began her journalism career at the Sun Sentinel's community newspaper offshoot, Forum Publishing Group, where she worked as the editorial assistant and wrote monthly features as well as the weekly library and literature column, "Shelf Life." After a brief stint bumming around London's East End (for no conceivable reason, according to her poor mother), she returned to real life and South Florida to start at New Times as the editorial assistant in 2009. A native Floridian, Rebecca avoids the sun and beach at all costs and can most often be found in a well-air-conditioned space with the glow of a laptop on her face.
Contact: Rebecca McBane