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Sugar Maples Art Explorers

The Art Explorers Program recognizes Rita Mary Vining.

Windham Foundation Funds Art Explorers Program

Posted August 23, 2019, By Michael Ryan for Mountain Eagle

Tears are shed for various reasons during the annual Art Explorers Program at the Sugar Maples Center for Creative Arts. “Kids cry to come here and then they cry because they don’t want to leave,” said Windham Foundation board of directors member, Phyllis Parrish, last Friday, as part of a special Recognition Day for Rita Mary Vining.

Vining has been the head instructor and inspirational force behind the program for each of its 15 years, giving the young participants, their teachers and backers yet another reason to get misty-eyed. It was the last day for artistic summer adventuring in the 6-week program, sponsored by the Catskill Mountain Foundation and Windham Foundation at the former Sugar Maples resort in the hamlet of Maplecrest. Vining, as she is known to do, shone the light outward, thanking the children for filling her life and the foundations for making it happen. “None of this would be possible without all of them,” Vining said, noting the Catskill Mountain Foundation created the program while the Windham Foundation provides scholarships for many attendees. “There are families in our area who can’t manage to send their children to a camp. This partnership allows that. It is a blessing that such importance is placed on education in each child’s development,” Vining said.

Campers focus on painting and drawing, cultural art, fantasy, papermaking, wheel-throw pottery, music and photography. There is also a good, old country creek in the back yard and no internet for the 4-days a week, 6- hours per day program, giving the 30-or-so participants plenty of time to do what comes naturally. “The arts are wonderful and we also teach all the kids to connect with and respect nature,” says volunteer assistant Trish Tiano, who has been around and deeply involved since Day One.

Many children from Vining’s art class at Hunter-Tannersville school over the past 32 years, and their children, have become involved in the program, including Tiano and her son Michael. “My mom, Fran Imperiale, helped start the camp with the Catskill Mountain Foundation so I guess you could say I came as a package deal with Rita Mary,” Tiano says, smiling. “Michael and I love coming here.” A second family is formed by the Art Explorers who turned their attention to their teacher, writing poems and expressing innocent thank- Rita Mary Vining is the real icing on the cake for the Art Explorers program. Among those gathering to say “thank you” for her 15 years of summer teaching were (left to right) program assistants Trish Tiano and Irene Barnum, Rita’s’ mom (likewise named Rita Mary), Rita Mary and Windham Foundation board of directors member Phyllis Parrish. There is no internet at the Art Explorers program, prompting Windham brothers Kameron and Preston Jaeger to be part of the crew for a stick-built teepee in the backyard Batavia Kill. “I’ve had so much fun with you and Irene,” one little girl wrote, also referring to longtime program assistant Irene Barnum. “I know there were some bad boys but I think we had a good time,” she wrote, signing it, “Love, Grace,” Adults in the room were grateful as well. “On behalf of the Windham Foundation, we want to recognize Rita Mary for her passion, her enthusiasm and her steadfast dedication,” Parrish said. “Rita Mary is extraordinary in her commitment to children.

She is often called “the child whisperer.” She isn’t just teaching art. “She teaches respect and consideration and encourages the kids, as well as their parents, to try to be positive every single day. “To be honest, I feel confident and positive coming here,” Parrish said. “We have never recognized Rita Mary formally. We want her to know we greatly appreciate what she does for our kids and the community,” Parrish said. The message is plain and simple for kids in the Art Explorers program at the Sugar Maples Center: “Your Life is your canvas, fill it with color”.