Class acts

Though better known for its galleries, the Nevada Museum of Art also offers art instruction

Photo By Allison Young

For more about the E.L. Cord Museum School at the NMA, visit

We go to museums typically to observe. We gaze on others’ works of art and admire, or occasionally critique. Rarely do we go to a museum with the intent of creating—but the Nevada Museum of Art, acting as a support advocate for the local art scene, offers the tools to help manifest artistic dreams—big and small, professional and novice, teenage and senior citizen—through a variety of mediums, and at a realistic cost. It may be a less frequented aspect of the museum than the exhibits themselves, but the classes offered at the E.L. Cord Museum School are no less necessary. The role the NMA plays by not only nourishing artists through exhibiting their work, but also creating artists by offering classes taught by artistic professionals, is invaluable. As one such instructor, Katherine Case says, “The museum itself is awesome—imagining Reno without it would be a big loss.”

The classes taught by Case and her associate instructors are open learning forums which offer students enrollment based on a first come, first-served basis with intimate class sizes and no grading scale. Assignments are given, and lessons are imparted, but the amount of effort invested is up to the students themselves—and if late to class, there’s no trip to the dean’s office.

From modern classes in the digital arts, to traditional studies in painting and drawing, to creative endeavors like stained glass and pinstriping—the options to further, or discover, the artist within are all-embracing. Just as diverse as the classes to be taken are the instructors themselves, and like a customized paint palette, the colorful personality of each perfectly matches their subject, making for uniquely inspiring atmospheres.

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This mix of personalities and classes is just a sample of what the museum school has to offer. There are approximately 35 instructors, and classes vary each quarter. Visiting the Nevada Museum of Art’s website provides the most up to date schedule, as well as class prices and supply requirements.

The bookbinder

Case teaches Japanese-style and nonadhesive bookbinding through the museum, as well as introductory letterpress printing out of her home business studio—Meridian Press. As systematic as the books she binds, Case teaches in a step-by-step process with, as she says, “lots of handouts.” But just as you can't read a book out of order (unless you're the choose-your-own-adventure type), you must go from step one to step two. A published poet, Case is practical with her teaching and careful with her words—choosing the language she uses to convey her artistic directions as carefully as the words which she chooses in her poetry to get her message across. Appropriately expressing herself is the goal that initially led her into book binding while working in the book arts department at Mills College in Oakland. “I could [bind] my own books of poetry—to really control how they looked,” Case explains. Her work, which includes gift cards and ink prints, can be found locally at Paper Moon, Reno Artworks and Indie Reno functions.

The photographer

A professional photographer, Jeff Ross is as sharp as the lens through which he shoots. When it comes to photography, interacting with subjects is one of the skills Ross says many students are looking to improve upon through his studio photography class, which works with live models.

“People often don’t feel comfortable photographing others and asking them to pose,” Ross explains. “So I like to pair more experienced models with less experienced photographers and vice versa, to balance it out.”

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Ross’s class is hands-on instruction from both he and the students themselves through critiques held after the completion of each assignment.

“Pretty quickly [the students] get used to [the critiques]—they’re proud of their work and they want to talk about it, they’re generally open and receptive to constructive criticism,” Ross says. He currently has an exhibit on display at Western Nevada College in Carson City.

The painter

Painting can be a serene and relaxing hobby—with its gentle brush strokes and quiet concentration. Portrait and landscape painting instructor Daniel Helzer is the perfect compliment. A full-time graphic designer/illustrator, Helzer's casual, soft spoken demeanor, coupled with the coffee shop vibe of the soft music he plays during class, creates an atmosphere for students to learn different brush strokes.

“[Painting] provides an escape,” says Helzer. “There are no heavy expectations and students are free to do what they want … I’m not pointing a critical finger.” Helzer’s teaching style is indirect; he gives a demo at the beginning of class, and sets his classes loose from there.

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“I’m not a hoverer and I don’t want to be a backseat artist,” Helzer says. A style which suits his students just fine.

“I like the way he teaches,” his student Elsie says, who’s currently taking her fifth class with Helzer. “He’s low key—not force feeding.”

The drawer

What would art be without challenging comfort zones, and what challenges comfort zones better than nudity? Life drawing instructor Jerry Stinson is just as honest and straight forward as his naked muses, and he knows the value in encouraging people to step out of their bubble when it comes to art. Everyone can be an artist in Stinson's mind. No ifs, ands or butts—er, buts, about it.

“Students come in and say, ’I can’t draw, or, I only draw stick figures.’ But I teach them otherwise,” Stinson says. “They can learn to draw just as they can learn to read, and I’ll argue that point to the end.”

As for how to get past the nerves of a naked model for those unaccustomed to drawing from life, Stinson’s technique is to encourage communication amongst not just students but the subjects as well.

“What I like to do is initiate a conversation with the models while the students draw,” Stinson says. “That keeps everyone involved and comfortable.”

The printer

Screen printing is fun, dynamic, and interactive—just like screen printing instructor Candace Nicol, who also teaches classes at Truckee Meadows Community College. As vivacious and colorful as the prints she helps her students to create, Nicol likes her classroom like she likes the red streaks in short brown hair: lively and meshing well together. Nicol loves interaction when she teaches, not just between herself and her students, but her students among each other. With sharing the same space and equipment (which Nicol herself donated to the museum), there's really no room to be shy. It's the socialization of print making that drew Nicol to it in the first place.

“When I was taking classes at [University of Nevada Reno], I’d always walk by the [print making] room and sneak a peek. They seemed to be having so much fun in there!” Nicol says. “My second year I took it and fell in love. It fits my personality, I can get bored painting—I like the fact that I can sit and talk.” Now Nicol can not only join in the fun, but spread it herself among her students.