Molly Moore and Emma Culbertson at the 2018 SKB Dubois Artists Rendezvous & Workshop

By Bob Bahr

How do you get to an SKB Artists Rendezvous? The same way you get to Carnegie Hall—practice.

Age matters. It’s a bit harder for a teen to get to the annual Dubois workshop put on by the Susan Kathleen Black Foundation. Fifteen-year-olds, for example, only had so many years in which to practice their art. They simply can’t have the years of experience or the financial wherewithal to pull it off. But SKB is ready to help.

The foundation offers scholarships to teens with recognized promise in visual art. The majority of the scholarship teens over the years have come from the Western Art Academy, which has long tapped trained SKB instructors to teach its students each summer. Another entity that has consistently brought in scholarship teens is Ken Shanika, an SKB Rose Award winner and a well-regarded teacher and painter in the Pikes Peak area of Colorado. But SKB is always on the lookout for other promising teens.

Emma Culbertson was passing through Dubois with her family a couple of years ago when she had an auspicious run-in with longtime SKBer Molly Moore at Gary Keimig’s gallery, which was located on the main street in Dubois. “I was painting there for an event in the summer of 2017, and she and her cousins walked in,” recalls Moore. “She asked if she could show me something on her phone, and she presented this beautiful drawing of Mother Teresa. The feeling in that portrait was exquisite for someone that age—I believe she was 14 when she started that drawing. The look in the subject’s eyes was very sensitive.”

Culbertson’s prize winner

Culbertson was returning to her home in Washington State the next day, though. Moore asked Culbertson if she would consider emailing some of her drawings to Moore so the SKBer could contact the foundation about a scholarship. “I explained a little bit about the foundation, the teen programs, and what it was all about,” says Moore. “Throughout the year we stayed in touch, and I contacted Pam Cable [the executive director of SKB] to see if they would offer a scholarship. She was open to it, so Emma went through the process of applying for a scholarship.”

Not only did she get her scholarship, she won Second Place in the 2018 Small Works show in the Teen division for a drawing of her grandmother.

Culbertson is a promising youngster, but the real story may be Moore’s unselfish mentorship. Moore was not urged to help Culbertson by the girl’s parents.

“I never met her parents throughout that year,” Moore says. “Emma is very independent and poised. She was homeschooled. She is self-taught in art.

Drawing a thumbnail sketch at EA Ranch

“What really excited me was that she already had the basic drawing skills,” Moore continues. “I think she has a lot of basic knowledge that will give her a really great start. She knows the importance of values; she has info and knowledge about those skills. She knows how to create a base for her sketching–not just focusing on an eye or the nose, but rather the whole composition.”

A little bit of nurturing and Culbertson was ready to soak up all that the SKB Artists Rendezvous was ready to offer. But being away from the comforts of home and trying plein air painting in a new place is difficult for even some well-trained artists. Culbertson fought the good fight one day out at the EA Ranch, with Moore offering artistic and emotional support. Teen painter and painting emerged from the day just fine.

“The wonderful thing about SKB is they channel them into basic classes that prepare them to go out and paint,” Moore says, pointing toward the plein air orientation sessions indoors that mark most mornings at the workshop. “I gave her general art information via email over the course of a year. I tried to fill her in about plein air and other aspects of painting. I advised her to go online and look at YouTube demos–there is so much online. She seems pretty advanced for not taking any workshops or classes.”

Culbertson has a long life ahead of her, and much art experience yet to gain. Undoubtedly, her experience with the family-like atmosphere of professional painters in SKB will offer some encouragement on her path. Moore is quite positive about Culbertson’s prospects.

“When I met Emma I just felt she had a special talent,” Moore concludes. “She’s 16 now, and she has such confidence, poise, and focus–at a young age.” Ω