Chicago-born artist aims to make Harpers Ferry shop a destination for getting creative
Art isn’t frivolous, Kweli Kitwana will tell you. In fact, it’s essential.
The Chicago native who makes her home in Harpers Ferry had grown up in a family of quilters and had always loved making art of all kinds.
As a teen, school administrators encouraged her to find a “real” occupation rather than rely on making art to make a living. She headed to a historically black college in Texas where she majored in sociology. After earning her degree, she worked as a community organizer, first in her hometown and later in Washington.
Gradually, she put her love of painting, drawing and other artistic pursuits on a back burner until her passion for it had cooled to near non-existence.
Then 12 years ago, thyroid cancer struck.
Kitwana found herself craving any opportunity to express herself through art. She tasked her husband to rummage through their garage looking for cast-off projects. She signed up for classes at the University of Maryland, at community colleges nearby, through the local parks and rec system.
“There’s such a value to art,” Kitwana explains. “Think how recently photographs have become the norm. For all the centuries before that, we know how people and places looked because painters and sculptures and other artists captured those images.
“I don’t know how art got this label as something that isn’t important.”
She believes the artwork she tackled during her illness helped her recover. “It was exactly what I needed,” she said. “It felt healing to me. It felt so good to be creating art again.”
Now Kitwana has created a walk-in art studio she calls Art Shack, Baby! The space, inviting to adults but still colorful and playful enough to attract families and youngsters, is located in Lower Town, at 180 High St.
She opened the shop quietly back in January but has held off on an official grand opening until this weekend. She plans to offer tours of the studio as well as sample craft projects.
“I see myself as a kind of coach,” Kitwana said. “I provide the support and the materials and some inspiration to get started. We have a buffet of art supplies set up and so anyone can walk in and just start exploring. It’s so much fun to just play.”
She believes many of us have lost touch with the playful, artistic side of ourselves we knew as kids. “We all have an intuitive sense of art – we’re drawn to what’s beautiful,” she said. “I think some of us just need a little nudge.”