On Friday mornings throughout the year, a group of characters gather in a church meeting room around their art supplies and coffee mugs. Paints and colored pencils sit neatly on the tables and brush strokes and brewing coffee add to the noise of their chatter.
The Friday Painters, as they call themselves, have been meeting for almost 17 years, since art instructor, Joe Mayer, decided to create a group to give artists around Shepherdstown a weekly place to hone their craft with support from others. Mayer taught current group members, who describe him as a talented plein air painter (plein air painters paint on location or outdoors) and inspirational teacher.
Sue Hamilton, a local mixed media artist, said, "I actually was at his house, taking a lesson the day he got on the phone and called his friend Don Black. He said, 'I'm putting an art group together, and we're just going to go out, and we're going to paint.'"
In the beginning there were four or five members and they were all painters. Hamilton said they ranged from beginning artists like herself to instructors like Mayer.
"We used to meet at the Lost Dog Caf for coffee, and then we would go out and drive to a site and decide where we were going to go, sit out there and paint," said Hamilton. "And then we'd go to lunch, and that would be the end of it for the day, and so every Friday, we would do this."
Eventually the founder, Joe Mayer, moved away from Shepherdstown but the group continued to meet.
"We loved the group so much we continued to paint" said Hamilton. "You have some people come in one Friday that can't come in the next. The group is always changing, and we do invite new people to come all the time."
Though the group began moving from site to site, they finally settled on a weekly meeting place at the Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church. They discuss everything from friends' health, pop culture and television shows like "Here Comes Honey BooBoo," to each other's art and local restaurant news. Meanwhile, they paint, stamp and sketch.
"The only rule we have is, there are no rules," said member Pat Barnes. "We have all kinds, from pastels to inks to acrylics to oils to collage."
Barnes, a print maker and painter, displays her art in a studio in Annapolis and says her day job is working for the D.C. Association as a contractor. Though the group will do shows together, she says it's not about selling their art.
"I don't want to be worried about, 'I need to sell this painting,'" said Barnes. "I think that takes the passion out of it."
Fellow Friday Painter Mike Austin echoes Barnes' sentiments.
"There's a tendency, like being a good antique dealer, that certain things you know or you sense are better than the others, those are the ones you want to keep, and those are the ones that someone wants to buy. So you're always in this dilemma about, "Gee, do I want to sell that?'" said Austin. "Our egos are somewhat involved in this process."
Though they joke about selling pieces, their art does get attention; Hamilton recently sold a piece she named "Windswept" through the Bridge Gallery in Shepherdstown. Though the inspiration for "Windswept," was a piece she saw in a dentist office, she says the art group is also a form of inspiration.
"I start with an idea, and whatever comes to my mind that's what I do," said Hamilton. "Sometimes we'll bring it in here, and we look at it, and people will say, 'I like this and this and this, but maybe if you did this it would work a little better.' So I often try that."
On Fridays at 12:30, the group leaves the church for what they joke is the most important part of the meeting; Lunch.
"That starving artist part doesn't seem right." said Austin. "That's just the one part I'm just not interested in."
"We have a lot of people who come for lunch. We have a lot of people who come for sociability," said Hamilton.
Social interaction is a large part of the art group experience. In addition to the once a week meetings and the lunches, once a year, the group travels together to paint at Blackwater Falls.
The first year they went, they thought they would set up and paint a scene outside together, just like in the early days of the group. But when they arrived it was raining.
Eventually they took over the back porch of Black Water Fall Lodge, where they can paint under shelter but still have beautiful views. The artists get the porch for no additional charge, though guests occasional walk through the area to get to the swimming pool.
Austin jokes, "We've been going there for a number of years, so we know every tree."
"Everybody just decompresses when you're there," said Barnes.
The group always seems to circle back to the beauty of the place and the variety of things from which they can pull inspiration. Hamilton mentions how much easier it is for her to produce her abstract pieces, for which she uses homemade Styrofoam stamps, indoors.
Though the group has changed over time from only strictly painters to varied types of artists, the social aspect remains intact. Hamilton said the best thing about Friday Painters is the group influence.
"It's the energy in the room," said Hamilton. "I see what they do and I get ideas for my paintings. "