April Davis-Brunner considers her property on Old Highway 71 near Saginaw to be magical. I consider it paradise.
Anytime I’ve been at April’s place — usually for her annual Art by the Spring party — I swear that if I lived there, I’d stay permanently holed up. I’d hire someone to do my grocery shopping, run my errands and handle all my personal business, so I’d never have to leave this enchanting property.
Aside from the wood-sided, showcase home, the property’s centerpiece is Cox Spring, first settled in 1842 by Joplin’s founder, John Cox, and used for water stops and encampments by the Butterfield Stagecoach Line in the late 1800s. Cox’s name is inscribed in a bluff ledge above the spring.
Flowing from the picturesque, ivy draped and fern-lined bluff, the spring-fed creek meanders through the property — under a small board walk and a suspended, wood plank bridge, past a gazebo and a waterwheel, and around a small island. Pine trees frame the impeccable, native landscaping that incorporates boulders, an old wagon wheel, benches, and small sculptures.
Off to one side of the property is a cedar-sided former guest house that is now April’s Art House, home to her studio and the art classes she’s begun offering.
She could have kept the small art house to herself, using it only for a studio for creating the nature paintings and sculptures that have gained her a name through area galleries, festivals and exhibits. But she saw it as an opportunity to share the magical setting of her property while offering art classes.
For several years, she’d been teaching drop-in classes in painting and sculpture at Local Color Art Gallery and Studio, a downtown artist co-op in which she is a founding member. But it meant hauling her art supplies with her and she was tiring of that.
Meanwhile, she was also teaching children’s summer camp classes at Carthage’s artCentral, where she frequently had parents mention desire for adult art classes.
Her art house was an opportunity to quit hauling her supplies to classes and to stay home, offering the adult classes people were calling for.
It was also a chance to showcase the skills of area artists, who she’s recruiting to teach in mediums outside of those she practices.
“I love supporting my artist friends and I like to share art,” she says. “The setting does make a difference. It’s so inspiring for artists.”
Last fall, April began offering classes in watercolor and acrylic painting, along with pastels, sculpting, printmaking, fused glass, jewelry, windchimes, and various types of clay work.
The two-hour classes, held on Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons, are taught in the setting of a cozy cabin, warmed with a wood stove and within eyeshot of the beautiful grounds and stream. Averaging 12 students per class, they primarily attract women — those who can finally take art classes they couldn’t take earlier because of work or raising children, those using them as “girlfriend parties,” and those wanting mother-daughter bonding experiences. So far, only one man has enrolled, taking a class with his family.
“When you bring your family and do art together, it’s bonding,” April says.
In the future, she hopes to install a kiln in the house’s private outdoor area, so she can offer classes in firing, no longer having to depend on the personal kiln of her pottery instructor, Christina Lorenzen. She also intends to bring in regionally known professional artists to provide workshops for seasoned artists, and to promote the place for private art parties, including overnight slumber parties. The house can sleep five people in beds, but additional sleeping arrangements could be made.
This isn’t a first for April to open her personal Shangri La to people interested in art.
Each June for the last four years, she’s hosted Art by the Spring, a gathering of artists she invites to show and sell their work. It averages 15 artists, and I’m one of the lucky ones she’s invited; it’s my favorite annual art showing. Food and drink are abundant, and music provided by local musicians wafts through the grounds. Patrons shop art and visit in the shade or at the water’s edge, watching the ducks or, sometimes, taking a wade into the creek. April’s father, Lowell Davis, Carthage’s nationally known artist, is always there, engaging friends and strangers with his usual humorous flair.
This is a blissful setting for participating in art. There’s nothing wrong with taking classes in downtown buildings. But breathing in the fresh air while taking in the beauty of April’s place certainly inspires creativity.
For a listing of coming classes, go to April’s Art House on Facebook. The classes average $40 per person.