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Childrens art gallery opens in Afton

Superclown gallery, network recognize the value of children’s art

By MIKE MARSNIK

Staff Writer

AFTON--if Elizabeth Blanco had her way, there would be no month of May.

"I’d like to wipe it right off the calendar," she said, explaining that five years ago, she lost her only son, David, then 25, to a car accident on the Friday night before Mother’s Day.

Blanco said that after her son’s funeral, she immersed herself in his belongings. "You have this fear of forgetting," she explained. "You never really forget, but you have this fear."

In son doing, she came across "Superclown," a figure Davey had created from his imagination at the age of five. While he was constantly doodling ‘Superclown’ at that time of his life, only four drawings remained.

Superclown has the head of a clown and the body of a superhero, complete with a backward "S" on his chest and a flowing cape. According to the legend her son created, Superclown "would just fly around. He would come to the aid of children all over the world."

Of course, Davey moved on to bigger things as he grew up: "Dungeons and Dragons," computers, and college. "He did a lot for a guy who was on this earth for a very short time," she said.

"He said, ‘Mom, I’ll always take care of you,’" Blanco said. "His legacy is Superclown. He gave me Superclown."

A foundation has been set up in his name to increase the opportunity of a secondary education for those who are economically disadvantaged.

Elizabeth Blanco had been earning a living as a food stylist, working mostly for caterers to make their food look presentable in displays and advertising. As an artist, she has also created dolls and works in other media. Her cousin, Gina Jarvi, a teacher in the St. Paul School District for 25 years, came to David’s funeral. Jarvi said she wasn’t considered an art teacher, though she did teach art.

For five years the two cousins had talked about opening an art studio/gallery for children, a place where children could create and display their artwork.

"It got to the point where we’d been talking and talking and talking," Blanco said. "We decided it was time to take action."

Perhaps remembering David brought too much pain of loss. Whatever the reason, Blanco’s husband took almost the exact opposite approach after their son’s death, wanting to have nothing to do with things that brought memories of him. The Blancos divorced and Jarvi convinced Elizabeth Blanco to move to the Twin Cities.

For the record, the Superclown Children’s Art Gallery is a non-profit learning center and gallery for children and youth. It’s primary purpose is to build on he children’s self-esteem and to engage the public in recognizing the fragile, yet profound expressions they make about their lives and the world.

"To see children’s art in frames is a very, very rare thing," Jarvi said. "We support the premise that a child’s work of art deserves a mat, a frame, and an audience. We believe that children want and need places of their own in which to be creative, to continue learning, and to present what they make to others. A child’s ‘work’ plays a significant role in positive development of his or her self-image."

The gallery offers demonstrations and hands-on experiences whenever it’s open.

January saw a total of 16 students and February, as the co-directors expected, was a slow month. But things are about to pick up. Starting this month, besides the Saturday classes, Superclown will offer "After-school Potpourri" for children in grades 5-8. Thursday evenings will be Family Fun Night, where families will come together to work on a quilt, become part of a weaving circle, or participate in other activities that foster community.

Superclown also brings art programs to schools, child care centers and community centers. Programs can run anywhere from four to 12 weeks. Each program ends with a formal gallery opening at a pre-determined site.

Through the Superclown Art Network, Blanco and Jarvi offer memberships to children. Members enjoy reduced costs for the classes they take. The network will also sponsor special events, speakers and guest artists throughout the year. An advisory board is being established to further define the network’s goals and activities.

The gallery also houses a library of books about art and artists as well as how-to books on various arts and crafts. Jarvi and Blanco hope the library continues to grow as people donate materials.

The network and gallery are supported by the Doll House, grants from the David Nathan Blanco Foundation, and through the support of persons and organizations who support childhood.

Blanco and Jarvi have high hopes. They hope to branch out nationwide, including a location in the Los Angeles area next year.

"We’ve been planning this for five years, so our goals are going to be pretty high," Jarvi said.

"Superclown is going to be famous; he’s going to take off," Blanco said. "I have a really good feeling about this."