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Local artisans learn to mind their beeswax
by Michelle Zewin
Apr 15, 2008 | 898 views | 0 0 comments | 22 22 recommendations | email to a friend | print
<a href=>Tribune/Tony Contini</a> Carole Dance is the instructor of the "Hot Wax &  Hot Women" class.
Tribune/Tony Contini Carole Dance is the instructor of the "Hot Wax & Hot Women" class.
<a href=>Tribune/Tony Contini</a> Rachel Salvagione and her mom, Carole Hutchinson, make art with hot wax.
Tribune/Tony Contini Rachel Salvagione and her mom, Carole Hutchinson, make art with hot wax.
Six months ago, Carole Dance had never heard of encaustic art. Now she can’t get enough of it.

While it may not be well known, encaustic art, or painting with beeswax by burning or fusing it, has been around for centuries.

“It’s often considered the oldest painting known to man,” Dance said.

The Greeks and Romans did encaustic art in the 4th and 5th centuries B.C., but the art form has only popped up sporadically since. Now, Dance said, the medium is making a comeback.

“There’s a good size movement going in New York and starting in Portland,” Dance said.

And now Dance is looking to continue that movement in Sparks. While flipping through an art magazine, Dance came across a painting she liked. The painting was done in acrylics but in the copy the artist said that she was always asked if it was encaustic.

“And I thought, ‘What is encaustic?’ ” Dance said. “I had never heard that word before. So I started exploring.”

But Dance’s research didn’t come easy. She said she could barely find any Web sites or other resources on encaustics. But soon she would luck out and find an encaustic artist in San Francisco, where she took a one-day intensive class.

“After that I wanted to bring it to Nevada because I just fell in love with it,” she said. “I got so jazzed up about it. I couldn’t imagine how they made such neat vases and pictures. It’s the color. It can explode.”

And now Dance is teaching encaustic art as part of the Washoe County School District’s Community Education Program. Six women signed up for the first, two-day class in which they learn the basics of the ancient art form.

Meeting at Dilworth Middle School in Sparks on Friday, the women gathered around hotplates holding cups filled with different colors of molten wax, heating tools and stacks of wood boards that would become their canvases. Although it was the students’ first time fiddling with encaustics, that didn’t stop them from being ambitious. After Dance showed them some samples on Thursday of just how creative one can get with wax, the students came back on Friday ready to try their hand at it.

Some students placed photographs face down in the wax and firmly pressed down. After putting it under water and scraping away the paper, they are left with images of their loved ones in the wax. And having a photo in wax can be better than having the original copy.

“When you have it in wax, you’ll have it forever,” Dance said. “It’s permanent. It lasts for centuries.”

The women may not have felt the immediate love for encaustics that Dance did, but they were certainly intrigued.

“I’m fascinated with what it can do,” student Carole Hutchinson said. “This is very interesting stuff.”

Hutchinson said she signed up for the encaustic class just because it was a different art medium that she wasn’t familiar with.

“It was an opportunity I wasn’t going to pass up,” she said.

Debbie Melahn, the program coordinator for Sparks Community Education, also signed up for the course because it was something new. And it didn’t take long for it to captivate her, too.

“I’m fascinated, I just want to keep dabbling,” Melahn said.

And so she did. Using an iron here and the heat gun there, never sure what to expect. But that’s the way encaustic art goes.

“What you originally started with won’t be what you end up with but you’ll love it anyway,” Dance said.

Dance’s sister, Marie Johnson, learned this lesson well.

“You think it’s going to come out one way but then it comes out totally different,” Johnson said as she studied her creation.

Johnson spent half the class examining her work on a 5 inch by 7 inch piece of wood. She said in it, she sees a fish, a dolphin, a monkey. When turned another way, there’s a horse. If Johnson doesn’t like any of the animals she sees in her wax, she can simply start over.

“If there’s ever something you don’t like, heat it and let it turn to soup or scrape it all off and start over,” Dance said.

Dance knows she has a lot to learn about encaustic art, and she can’t wait.

“I’m still new at this so I have all these love affairs — all these ideas that I want to try,” she said. “This is art for the soul. The possibilities are endless.”
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