For people with artistic talent or simply just aspirations, Penny McElhaney has something just up their alley.
There are plenty of stories about what’s gone on inside the walls of the century-old Montezuma Inn on Main Street, but McElhaney wants to add a little bit of class. Classical art, that is.
McElhaney, a Phoenix native and Yavapai County resident, recently opened a new art instruction school in the heart of Camp Verde.
While recently home to a Mexican restaurant on the ground floor, the old building has since seen most of its new activity upstairs, where the rooms of the old inn have been converted into spaces for small businesses.
Since Sept. 30, students at McElhaney’s school have spent three hours a day on Mondays and Wednesdays inside old room No. 4, patiently honing their artistic skills.
McElhaney describes her studio, eponymously named McElhaney’s Studio Atelier, as a place where aspiring artists can focus on the “principles applicable to the realist endeavor of portrait, figure and still life.”
“Atelier” is derived from an old French word that originally referred to a carpenter’s workshop, but today the word is used to describe an artist’s studio.
McElhaney’s small space is certainly intimate, something McElhaney said allows her to give plenty of individual attention to her students.
It’s quite a different situation from the one she experienced as an art teacher at Grand Canyon College and at Yavapai College, where she’s taught for the last decade.
“There are a lot more people in those classes,” McElhaney said. “And there are certain things you have to cover by the end of a semester. You don’t always have time to give every student the attention they may need in a particular area.”
Still, McElhaney said she’d eventually like to expand her studio into another room on the inn’s second floor, in order to teach a more advanced class to students who have already made it through her nine-week introductory course.
McElhaney also said she’d also like to set aside time for a class aimed at young people on the weekends.”
“I’ve been wanting to have a school,” McElhaney said. “It’s just a more intensive place to teach traditional techniques.”
Her studio is decorated with examples of her art, primarily the human form.
Last week, her students stood in concentration and observation as a young man named Carl Bring sat as motionless as humanly possible in a centrally-located raised chair. The aspiring artists took care to detail his features on their easels as realistically as possible. A trip around the room revealed Bring from several different angles, all exceptionally lifelike in graphite.
Jean Cooper took a moment to praise her teacher before continuing her interpretation of Bring’s countenance.
“Penny’s an excellent teacher,” Cooper said. “When I heard she was doing this I signed up right away.”
Standing for hours with a human model was just what Cooper was looking for.
“I love painting and drawing the human form,” Cooper said. “This was something natural for me.”
Cooper, who has studied art since 2005, has done quite well, if her unfinished portrait of Bring is any indication.
As for McElhaney, she says she’s inspired by the old and modern masters and describes her work as based on “a synthesis of observation.” She wants her students to come away from her classes with what she says is a traditional aesthetic based on direct observation and disciplined study.