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Portrait of an Artist

Carol Zeitlin has been teaching art to Burke residents, young and old, for 20 years.

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Carol Zeitlin demonstrates Chinese brush painting to her camp. Zeitlin teaches decoupage, needlepoint, weaving, Chinese brush painting and drawing during her 8 and up, fine arts and craft camp.

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Julianne Cobb paints a watercolor painting during Carol Zeitlin’s Summer 2008 Art Camp at Burke Presbyterian Church in Burke. Cobb is participating in the 8 and up, fine arts and crafts camp.

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Max Herz works on his watercolor drawing during Carol Zeitlin’s Summer 2008 Art Camp. Zeitlin’s camp is a one week Monday-Friday camp.

In 1988, Carol Zeitlin, mother of three and Burke Centre resident, was inspired by a sign promoting sports camp.

“I thought ‘If kids will go to camp for sports then maybe they’ll go to camp for art,’” said Zeitlin, who boasted an educational background that was a perfect storm of degrees for an individual seeking to launch a community art program. She earned a bachelors degree in art, a masters in recreation and held a teacher's certificate.

“I started by offering after-school art lessons and, as my kids got older, added more programs,” said Zeitlin.

Now in her 20th year, Zeitlin offers programming that coincides with the school year to include art classes divided into four sessions of at least seven classes followed by summer art camps from June through August. The programs are open to students ages 5 and older with more specialized classes for teens and adults. Enrollment is usually no more than a dozen students.

“We spend the school year developing drawing skills and helping the students find themselves in their own drawings and paintings,” said Zeitlin. “Drawing is the foundation of art. It is as important to mental processing and fine motor skills as learning to spell, write and read and it just isn’t emphasized enough in schools.”

“What you get through the schools is minimal,” said Terry Riggins of Fairfax Station, who has had at least one of her three children enrolled in Zeitlin’s classes for the last 16 years. “Carol’s classes provide an outlet to draw out creativity and develop talent.”

Riggins’ daughter Colleen, 14, a long-time camper, is now assisting Zeitlin as a teacher’s aide. Riggins' son Rory, 20, is pursuing a fine arts degree at the Rochester Institute of Technology after building a portfolio through Zeitlin’s program.

Classes being offered during the 2008-09 school year include Drawing Plus Color (5-8-year olds) and Art Lessons for Youth (8 and up). For teens and adults, Zeitlin offers Art Workshop and Chinese Brush Painting classes. All sessions meet at the Ponds Community Center in Burke. The school year concludes with an art show of works from the classes at Pohick Regional Library.

Even if families don’t decide to enroll in one of Zeitlin’s classes, she encourages parents to slowly expose their children to the arts and offered the following tips.

1. Give the children a sketch book. “Have them draw and write about family vacation and outings.”

2. Attend high school craft shows. “Take the children to see crafts and meet the people who make them.”

3. Go to museums. “Go to an exhibit to spark an interest. Take advantage of D.C.’s museums.”

4. Visit local arts communities. Zeitlin recommends the Torpedo Factory, Occoquan and the new Lorton Warehouse.

5. Teach needlepoint. “It is a nice craft for home, the car, on a plane or in front of the TV. Plus, they can give the finished product as a nice present.”

Zeitlin’s summer camp program introduces children to needlepoint as well as a variety of arts and crafts like water color, decoupage and sculpting. “The summer camps are to have fun and learn from a wider exposure,” said Zeitlin.

After 20 years, Zeitlin’s signs posted on community bulletin boards and in grassy medians are as commonplace as any promoting a sports camp. She relishes “an aging Burke” with families residing here longer and returning students enrolling in her classes.

“Families in Burke are so fortunate to have lots of recreational activities available to them,” said Zeitlin. “I’m glad to be here to help the students develop personal directions in their artwork and observe how each student goes from a blank piece of paper to a different artwork.”