Strokes of success

Artist Barbara McGowan smiles with her self-portrait. DONNA DIPAOLO / FOR THE TIMES

Barbara “Cookie” McGowan and the rest of the members of the Painted Ladies of Somerton sure enjoy their weekly get-togethers.

“The best day of the week is Thursday,” she said.

Every Thursday night, 13 women gather in Jeannette Rice’s basement on Saint Christopher Lane.

Rice, who teamed with McGowan and members of the Westmoreland Civic League back in 1972 to paint the city’s first mural in a play area at H and Cornwall streets in Kensington, has taught the class for the last eight years.

“It was a little community thing to do, and we’ve become great friends,” she said. “I enjoy having everyone over. It connects me with family and friends. It’s a very nice evening.”

On a recent Sunday, the Painted Ladies gathered at Somerton United Methodist Church for their first art show.

In all, there were 150 oil paintings, with each member choosing their favorites to display.

Rice praised the talent of her students, none of whom have formal training.

In turn, they appreciate her guidance in the finer points of technique, coloring and other aspects of a good painting.

“I love the opportunity to learn a little about painting and meet these great ladies,” said Donna Bordelon.

Bordelon said Rice gets the best out of her pupils.

“She’s the Gertrude Stein of Somerton,” she said of the late famed art collector.

Lisa Mast-Kepner, Rice’s daughter, said learning to paint from a professional was “in the genes.” She explained that the women critique each other’s work and give one another ideas of new styles.

“I enjoy it. It’s relaxing,” she said. “We have a good time with it, we really do. All the women have become very, very close.”

The members range in age from 24-year-old Adrienne Cianfarini to 91-year-old Dorothy “Dottie” Holland.

Holland, a member of the board of trustees at Somerton United Methodist Church, was happy to welcome her fellow Painted Ladies to the church for their first show. She’s been a Painted Lady for five years, and while her finished products always turn out well, she won’t put her brush away until she’s satisfied.

“It’s a challenge,” she said.

In the class, each woman works on a different piece of art.

“It’s all freedom of expression,” Rice said.

Other members of the group are Diane Black, Jennifer Cianfarini, Rita Saverese, Doris Martin, Jen Mason, Colleen Cummings and Bobbi McKairnes.

All budding artists need to start somewhere.

Many years ago, Black joined Rice and McGowan in taking an art class at the YMCA at Front Street and Allegheny Avenue, under the tutelage of Marge Bok.

Cummings had never painted until six years ago. Now, she loves being a member of the Painted Ladies.

It’s not just about painting. Everyone brings a snack, and the women talk. Sometimes, the gatherings go past midnight.

Cummings said all the women depend on each other for painting advice, and that they give one another the confidence to try new things.

“This group is so special. Everybody is so helpful,” she said. “It’s a magic group. It’s really, really wonderful.” ••

Teacher Jeannette Rice describes one of her paintings. DONNA DIPAOLO / FOR THE TIMES

Colorful creations: The Painted Ladies of Somerton, a group of artists who range from 24 to 91 years old, gathered at Somerton United Methodist Church for their first art show. DONNA DIPAOLO / FOR THE TIMES