Westhampton artist Amy Hess is probably best known for her metal work—cutout sculptural figures and menorahs festooned with leaves and lions, for example—but she has recently reached out to the community with “Art of Life” classes for young people, which feature such disparate topics as local wildlife, yoga, and cooking.
Ms. Hess’s “Art of Life” classes, held in a converted chicken coop near her home in Westhampton, are by no means typical arts and crafts sessions. Instead of drawing still lifes, or painting landscapes from photographs, the five to seven children in Ms. Hess’s classes work on making balsam wreaths decorated with pinecones and ribbons, scrambling eggs laid by Ms. Hess’s hens, or learning how to knit.
Ms. Hess said that her classes, held Monday through Friday from 4 to 5 p.m., are titled “Art of Life” because the creative impulse and aesthetic sense play a very strong part in everything she does in life.
“Everything I do has to do with art,” said Ms. Hess, who has a bachelor’s of fine arts degree in painting and also owns Amy’s Ark Farm, an internet-based art company. “I try to incorporate that for the kids, so we do some gardening and cooking.”
The Amy’s Ark Farm website is at amysarkstudio.com, and Ms. Hess’s metal work—candle holders, picture frames, trivets, menorahs, coasters and lamps—is also available for sale on the site. Ms. Hess noted that amysarkstudio.com is a reincarnation of her metallic gift ware company, Amy’s Ark, which was started in 1989 and went on hiatus in 2002. Ms. Hess previously owned factories in Glen Cove and Speonk as part of Amy’s Ark; now she produces the items on a smaller scale from her own Westhampton studio, the same place where she holds her classes.
Saying that Ms. Hess marches to the beat of her own drum, Kelly Zaffuto of Westhampton Beach, whose son, Zach, 7, attends Ms. Hess’s class, said that the artist and teacher is “a genuine soul, and does her own thing. She’s one of a kind.”
The “Art of Life” courses are offered in four-week sessions at a cost of $85 per session, a price that includes all necessary materials and supplies. Ms. Hess also sometimes teaches yoga, art and mozzarella cheese-making classes at the Westhampton Free Library on Library Avenue in Westhampton Beach.
Just as nature plays a role in Ms. Hess’s artwork—she explained that the company’s name includes “Ark” to show how animals are her inspiration, in line with the biblical tale of Noah and the Flood—nature plays a central role in her art classes as well. Her 30 chickens, two ducks and four goats, as well as a number of other domesticated animals, are often the subject of many of her students’ art projects.
“In class we might draw a baby duck or baby chick, and the kids will hold it and learn about it,” said Ms. Hess, who has two children of her own, Onalee, 7, and Oliver Batcheller, 11, who attend her classes. “Maybe we’ll read a book about it.”
One of Ms. Hess’s special helpers, Sunny Foglia, 10, described another project that involved creating art out of real egg shells. Sunny explained that she and the other students blew the egg white and yolk out of eggs laid by Ms. Hess’s chickens and then decorated the eggs with feathers and glitter. “I help out because I’m good with children, and because we do fun things here,” Sunny said. “I’m into art.”
Other nature-oriented projects in the “Art of Life” sessions include
, the Japanese process of making prints from dead fish.
In addition to incorporating nature in her art classes, Ms. Hess also works to preserve the environment by using solar panels to provide power for her home, hanging her clothes out to dry rather than using a dryer, and using a wood-burning stove to heat her home.
“I also just ordered oil lamps for my children’s bedrooms,” Ms. Hess said. “It’s an alternative to lights.”
Ms. Hess noted that her Long Island Power Authority bill each month totals about $5.
Adriana Fathalla of Westhampton Beach, the mother of Andreas, 6, who has attended “Art of Life” classes since May, commended Ms. Hess for her environmental friendliness, noting that Ms. Hess’s home and converted chicken coop are a bit of an anomaly in the Westhampton area.
“It’s like a farm in the middle of development,” Ms. Fathalla said. “And she’s eco-friendly.”
Ms. Hess also has a farm stand at the Westhampton Beach farmers’ market, where she sells eggs and honey made from beehives on her property.
The unconventional class has different benefits for students as well.
Ms. Zaffuto said that her son, Zach, has been taking Ms. Hess’s “Art of Life” course for an entire year now and has learned about art, culture, and animals through the course.
“He does amazing things—he does yoga, makes his own piñata, grows vegetables, makes his own cheese,” Ms. Zaffuto said.
Sunny’s father, Chris Foglia of Remsenburg, whose son, Hank, 4, also participates in the course, thinks his children benefit from Ms. Hess’s artistic take on life as well.
“It’s a creative time for the kids, it’s good for them,” Mr. Foglia said. “They’re learning social skills and being creative.”
Ms. Hess teaches her “Art of Life” classes for children age 3 to 5 on Mondays and Fridays. Students age 6 to 8 attend classes on Wednesday and Thursday, and children age 9 and up meet for the class on Tuesday.
The next four-week session of “Art of Life” classes begins on Monday, December 15, and parents interested in having their children attend should either call Ms. Hess at 288-3587 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.