Picture Lady Program seeking volunteers

BIG RAPIDS — Not everyone will become the next Van Gogh or Picasso, but everyone can learn to appreciate the past masters’ work. Sharing a rich and varied collection of fine art prints with elementary-school children and trying to help them understand art is the goal of the Picture Lady Program.

The program, an outreach of the General Federation of Women’s Club — Big Rapids for the past 38 years, is in need of new volunteers if the tradition of sharing the world’s masterpieces is to continue.

“We’re anxious to get some new volunteers before our training session in December,” said Mary Jean Keating, one of the program co-organizers.

The club owns prints of 90 famous paintings, which they share with elementary classes up through fourth grade throughout the Mecosta-Osceola Intermediate School District. Volunteers attend an approximately one-and-a-half-hour training session twice a year to learn more about the series of prints to be displayed.

Paintings are grouped into thematic series, and volunteers visit the school where they would like to work a couple of times to present each series. For example, the series scheduled for the 2015-16 school year included pop art, animals, line and color.

“Ideally, volunteers go into the schools four times a year,” said Bonnie Jacoby, program co-organizer. “We have enough prints that we don’t repeat any usually for about three years.

“Most of our volunteers don’t have an art background. Some are teachers or have worked around elementary students in the past, but that’s not required. We give a lot of background information and the kids ask questions.”

Volunteers must be able to drive and be available during the school day. Keating and Jacoby are hoping for four or five new people to help fill gaps to ensure all schools can receive the program. Though the program is named Picture Lady, men can apply as well.

“We’ve had dads, too,” Keating said. “Everyone is welcome.”

Some years, a lack of volunteers meant students in some schools did not receive a Picture Lady in certain years, but organizers estimate about 900 youth each school year have the opportunity to learn more about art. This year, there is a particular need for volunteers to visit Reed City, St. Peter’s, St. Mary’s, Barryton and Morley Stanwood schools.

“This is different than regular art instruction,” Jacoby said. “This is more like art history.”

Club members feel the program helps fill a void in the community, Keating explained.

“We do this program because there’s not an art museum in the Big Rapids area,” she said. “This way, we can bring famous artists’ works to the students.”

Artists whose work is included in the Picture Lady Program include Vincent Van Gogh, Edgar Degas, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Claude Monet, Edouard Manet and Diego Rivera.

Anyone interested in volunteering is asked to call Jacoby (231) 796-2913 or Keating (616) 214-8313 to sign up and receive more information.