Hidden Gems of Tuscaloosa: Brushstrokes helps children and adults unlock their creative potential

Hidden Gems of Tuscaloosa: Brushstrokes helps children and adults unlock their creative potential

Photo courtesy of Caroline Giddis. 

A beautiful commission piece featuring a red barn and grassy field sits on the easel behind her, and a bright smile adorns her face. Ann Foster has been teaching art and painting for almost her entire career, with 26 years invested in Tuscaloosa city and county public schools.

In her studio, called “Brushstrokes”, each wall is covered in Foster’s completed artwork and pieces from other artists. The most profound work on display however are drawings from Ann’s biggest fans: her younger students. “I love art and I love Ms. Ann” is one example of the types of captions that children write on their creative works for her.

“I keep thinking I’m getting too old, especially for the little bitty children, but I love them,” Foster said. “They just make me so happy.”

Foster, whose preference is painting with oil, teaches anything from acrylic to mixed media. Adult oil and drawing classes take up most of her mornings, while her youth after-school program is the focus of her afternoons. Art education has been a topic of conversation in the U.S. over the last decade, both in the political and cultural realm. Foster stands her ground on the importance of creative development and her utter passion for the impact that it can have on a child’s life.

“It’s such an important part of [a child’s] well-being to be creative, and to not just do math and science all the time,” Foster said. “You learn critical thinking, problem solving and making decisions. All of those thought processes are involved in it, but mainly I think it builds their self-esteem and an appreciation for others.”

She encourages parents to stop by art museums when they travel and to bring art education in their home as well.

“I love art history so I try to share it without it becoming too academic, just to expose them to different things so that they understand why it’s important,” Foster said. “There’s more to it than just pretty things hanging on the wall.”

Foster graduated from the University of Alabama with a degree in Art Education and went on to gain her master’s degree in it as well.

“Many of us went into art education because that was a practical way to keep learning and keep using it,” Foster said.

Although she retired from teaching in schools in 2004, Foster found a way to keep her passion alive and continue to influence the community by teaching independently to all ages. She started out in the basement of an art gallery in downtown Tuscaloosa, which became a challenge for lighting and because the kids had to walk through the gallery space above to get to the bathroom. Think paint covered hands and dripping water.

“I was on eggshells the whole time,” Foster said with a slight shudder.

Through friends and connections she settled in a space that was previously a warehouse for an antique store. Her studio, located in the cultural hub of historic downtown Northport, is the perfect space for strangers to become friends, all while learning a new skill.

“You get real involved with the people that come in here every week,” Foster said. “It’s just this little group of people who, for the most part, would never have met otherwise. They’re learning to paint, which is a good thing, but it becomes something more than that for most of them.”

Foster is filled with stories of her groups becoming close and supporting each other throughout the years. Some involve hardships and using the painting class as an escape, others are happy stories with joyful moments shared among them.

“We share our good things and our bad things, sometimes we share our hurts and our goals, and things that the children do, and new grandbabies,” Foster said. “It’s just a real special relationship. When I got into it I never dreamed that it would have that sort of emotional attachment to it all.”

A fun event that Foster holds by request is Brushstrokes After Dark, where a group can come in and enjoy a glass of wine while painting. Sorority groups as well as professional groups have used the event to bond and encourage everyone to think creatively.

Foster’s close friend and greatest inspiration has been artist Roger Dale Brown, a very successful oil painter. Brown comes by Brushstrokes at least once a year to teach a workshop to local artists.

“When he’s here I host the workshops but I also get to be the student,” Foster said. “He’s one of the premier oil painters in the country right now, so that’s very special.”

Throughout her career, Foster has worked to keep improving her skills and her artwork. Many of her works are framed or on display in the Brushstrokes studio. Anyone that walks in can immediately tell that Foster is incredibly talented, especially after looking at her stunning landscapes and still lifes, and know that they are about to experience a great lesson.

Although Foster has regrets of never pursuing getting her work into galleries and becoming a larger artist, but she is comforted to know that she has made an impact on so many people’s lives – which is more rewarding than any fame or dime.

“They all may not choose a career path that’s related to this, but whatever their story is this was a little part of it somewhere along the way,” Foster said.

For more information on taking lessons or planning an event at Brushstrokes, contact Ann Foster at 205- 657-0199.

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