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Art class helps decorate the area

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Heather Murphy of Chassell works on her painting at Lori Sleeman’s art class in Trimountain Thursday.

TRIMOUNTAIN — From Houghton, Chassell, Marquette or even Sault Ste. Marie, painters have come to Lori Sleeman’s house in Trimountain and left more themselves.

“I just want everybody to be them, and define what their niche is,” she said, describing helping a student learn how to paint the talon of an eagle. “I’ll sit down and paint on their stuff, but I want everybody to do their own thing.”

Sleeman has been teaching adult art classes for more than 30 years. She first got into painting by watching Bob Ross shows on PBS.

“We just had a bunch of people that would get together, and people wanted to learn how to paint,” she said. “They asked me to teach them, and I did. I taught them what I could teach them.”

Sleeman mostly teaches oil painting, though some students also work with acrylics.

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Lori Sleeman shows a piece in progress commissioned by the Houghton County Fair.

The room at Sleeman’s house holds eight students. Sometimes only one person shows up; other times, more than eight come and she has to find someplace to put them.

When new students come, Sleeman starts them off with a “beginner box” where they work off a sample picture.

“That way, I can see what’s in their head, and then I can help instruct them and guide them through,” she said.

Once they have the basics down, students take on the subjects that pique their interest. Thursday’s class had a mix of interests, including downtown Houghton flowers, a baby fox, an eagle and a pet cat.

“Some of the girls, they work on stuff at home, and they bring it here to finish up and to get ideas on what to do,” Sleeman said. “We pretty much come here to relax, solve the world’s problems, get away from the world’s problems. It’s just having a place of people that want to paint.”

Class member Julie Waara said her 80-year-old aunt has been taking the classes for 25 years, coming from Eagle Harbor even in snowstorms.

“Lori’s amazing,” she said. “She pulls it out of us. She’s like, ‘I know it, I’m going to find it in you.'”

The class has led to outside commissions for the painters. They’ve done work for the city of Houghton; Waara is head of the city’s Beautification Committee. A number of their panels line the tunnel crossing M-26, with more panels ready to be placed around the city.

“They did something that’s important to them about the area that they love that they wanted to share with everybody,” she said. “It just takes a gray dark well and does something pretty with it.”

Waara’s daughter, Allie, started painting oil pastels of pets for a Copper Country Humane Society fundraiser, and now takes on commissions.

The Village of Laurium has also reached out to the class for public artwork, Sleeman said.

“Hopefully all of us artists can help them or other communities,” she said. “Anybody that wants to share art with people, this is a perfect venue for it.”

Later this summer, the class also hopes to do art nights in Houghton on Tuesdays.

“All of us girls will get together and bring our stuff, and if anybody has anything to sell, we’ll sell it,” Sleeman said. “Otherwise, we’re just hoping to sit together as a group and paint in downtown Houghton. So that’d be kind of fun.”

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