By BETTY WATERS
PALESTINE — Artist Barbara Eaton leads “paint and take” classes that teach adults to paint their “masterpiece” they take home at the end of a two-hour class. Lately, she has also become known as “the whistle lady.”
That’s because Ms. Eaton makes ocarinas — small clay vessels that are musical instruments with finger holes and a mouthpiece that produces whistling tones.
Her original musical sculptures, made without molds, are in the shapes of animals and other creatures, such as a ceramic bulldogs, ceramic “fish impersonators” of celebrities, ceramic musical necklaces and charms.
The bulldog has three holes, but because the holes are different shapes and sizes, it makes up to eight sounds.
The ceramic “fish impersonators,” which also make whistling sounds, are ocarinas shaped like a fish that resemble John Wayne, Lucille Ball, Marilyn Monroe, Dolly Parton, Elvis Presley and other celebrities.
“This is something new I’ve developed over the last year,” Ms. Eaton said. “It gives me great joy to make them.”
She takes a lump of clay and fully sculpts her creations by hand, pressing and pinching the clay into shape and lets it dry for a week.
“They (her sculptures) are totally fired ceramic clay and glazed with a food-safe glaze so that people can put their mouth on them and play them as an instrument,” Ms. Eaton said.
She uses a reed to form the mouthpiece and takes a stick like a skewer to go into the clay at a 45-degree angle. That allows the air inside to meet with the air outside and make the first sound, Ms. Eaton said. Other holes that are different widths and sizes make different sounds.
“The bigger the clay body, the deeper the sound and the smaller the clay body, the higher the pitch,” Ms. Eaton said.
“No matter how you move your fingers, it (the musical sound) is going to be pleasant,” Ms. Eaton said.
“You don’t have to know how to play an instrument. You can just move your fingers up and down (on the holes) in different ways. To me, it sounds old world – something they might have been made in the old days just to entertain or to sooth the soul.”
Ms. Eaton sells her instruments/sculptures that are whistles at galleries and festivals, where they are snatched up. She sold 75 whistles in two days during a festival in Tupelo, Miss., and plans to have a booth at the Edom festival in October.
Ms. Eaton paints people in their natural environment rather than posed portraits and she is a retired teacher who taught art from third grade through college in Mississippi for 30 years.
Now she goes to different towns, mainly in Mississippi, teaching art classes, but started coming to Palestine occasionally to teach art classes and art camps after her fiancé was transferred to the Wal-Mart distribution center in Palestine.
In free two-hour sessions sponsored by Palestine Public Library, Ms. Eaton used simple words and art terms to teach adults, many with limited or no previous art experience, to use acrylics to paint a blue bird perched on dogwood branches with.
“I teach by shape. I say we are going to draw a football shape to start the bird’s body, then the round head and pointed feet. To paint the dogwood, we do hearts — each petal is a heart and we put a little stain at the center of each heart,” Ms. Eaton said.
“People aren’t intimidated and get relaxed. I draw with them step by step. At the end of the two hours, they have their own masterpiece.”
“Even though we’re all painting the same thing, everybody’s (painting) is a little bit different because it’s got their own personality in it,” she said. “It’s entertainment plus an art lesson together.”
Class member Rhonda Mathison said, “It was fun to interact with other people and the process of everybody drawing and creating the same picture.”
Mary Parsons said she did not think she could produce a painting, but she did and found painting “very relaxing.”
Janice Freeman and Amy Langley had never painted before. “I didn’t know if I could, but I did. I am surprised,” Ms. Langley said. “It wasn’t hard at all but very interesting.”
Ms. Freeman said the class motivated her to take more art classes.
Frances Liles had painted with watercolor and oil and wanted to learn about painting with acrylics. “I really enjoyed (the class). It was a lot of fun,” she said.
Debra Owen, who has a son who is an artist, wanted to take the class to see where his natural talent came from and how she could do. “I am very surprised,” she said of her painting.
The teacher, she added, “was very good at instructing and telling us how to use the brush and what angle and about the different colors and mixing.”