What Our Students and Parents Say

"I remember being 9 years old and rushing home from school with a brochure in hand, going through a brief persuasive speech in my head, so as to be sure that my parents would not turn me down when I begged them to let me take my first class at The Art Academy.

"On my first visit, I learned very quickly that these classes were completely worth every ounce of excitement I had and more.

"For 8 and a half more years (basically until I had graduated from high school and headed out of town for college) I spent lots of time at The Art Academy – from drawing and painting courses, to oil painting, and even cartooning and superhero classes. I was never disappointed with any class I had taken through the Academy.

"The format of instruction helped me learn to see space differently, it helped me learn great layout techniques, and all the basic fundamentals taught me how to make beautiful art. Teachers were very hands-on with each student and took careful note of everyone's progress. The style of the classroom made it possible for everyone to go at their own pace.

"I had an incredible amount of fun and I made great friends… not only with the students, but with the wonderful owners and the well chosen staff they had hired. I've carried my experiences from The Art Academy everywhere I have gone and will continue to do so. This is an EXCELLENT program to put children of any age (5+) through. I would absolutely recommend it to anyone considering."
– Jacob Herman

LEFT: Fina Mooney, Age 14, Master Copy, Charcoal Drawing
MIDDLE: Fina Mooney, Age 13, Bread Still Painting, Alla Prima Oil Painting
RIGHT: Fina Mooney, Age 14, Self Portrait at Age 13, Grisaille Oil Painting

"I have done and loved art since I was very young. I have practiced drawing since I could hold a pencil, and I began attending The Art Academy when I was 5.

"Currently, I take classes at The Art Academy four days a week. At present, I'm studying to learn about oil underpainting, glazing and scumbling, yet I continue to work on advanced watercolor and inking techniques.

"At home I study art daily, doing a constant stream of Charles Bargue drawings and oil studies. I work on anatomy at The Art Academy, too. Fredric Lord Leighton, Vermeer and other famous artists inspire me. Art is my passion – I want to go forth and grow to become a master.

LEFT: Fina Mooney, Age 13, Charles Bargue Studies, Pencil on Toned Paper
MIDDLE LEFT: Fina Mooney, Age 14, Anatomy Study, Pencil Drawing
MIDDLE RIGHT: Fina Mooney, Age 13, Anatomy Sketches, Pencil Drawing
RIGHT: Fina Mooney, Age 14, Charles Bargue Study, Pencil on Toned Paper

"While by today's view I am young, it was normal for kids my age to take academy classes in Europe once upon a time, and I hope to have those opportunities, too. I have personal hopes of seeing young be a foundation of the traditional arts as it has been in history. I believe these traditions are important to build a continuum for the future.

"Sarah and Jim are definitely people I love learning from and respect. Thank you for making The Art Academy a place I enjoy so much."
– Fina Mooney

A Tiger Watches the Gulls
Ellie Perendy, Age 18
This is the first Oil Painting that Ellie ever painted.

Jim and Sarah,

"In many ways, I grew up at The Art Academy. I wouldn't be the artist I am today without the skills I learned at The Art Academy. A truly special place with an intimate and supportive community."
– Ellie Perendy

Rose Polchowne, Age 18
Charles Bargue Study
Pencil on Toned Paper

"Working with Jim and The Art Academy was a privilege. As a homeschooled only child, I was shy and withdrawn. Attending The Art Academy was my first time in a classroom situation.

"Jim and Sarah made me feel comfortable and welcome. Instruction was both fun and professional. I looked forward to class as a time to relax, create, and laugh!

"The recognition I received encouraged me to develop my artistic talent, increased my self-confidence, gave me a sense of accomplishment, and helped build my character. Their unique classical approach ensured me a solid foundation in the fundamentals that underlie all artistic styles."
-Rose Polchowne Larson

"…My 10 and 13 year olds have attended The Art Academy part time for several years. They love it. Despite many competing interests, they decided it was time to go year round.

The curriculum is rigorous, employing strict foundational studies. Even so, the teachers have caught the kids' enthusiasm. Quite a feat, I think, considering all the candy being dangled in front of our kids these days."
— Tim Lundgren


State Fair Blue Ribbon!
Becca Engdahl, Age 15

"We appreciate the great basic art instruction, but are particularly pleased with your willingness to adapt to our daughter's interests and desire for greater challenges in her watercolors. The results are outstanding and have kept her motivated to continue!"
— Raina Eberly

"…I know it's been a while but I just wanted to write you and thank you for all you have done for me. I enjoyed your classes so much and they helped me so much artistically. Next year I will be attending the Ringling School of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida. I'm planning on majoring in animation and hopefully working for Disney afterwards. Thanks again. It's been great."
— Nick Pitera

Holly Tappen
Oil Painting

"I recommend The Art Academy for their dedication to teaching traditional methods to create great art. And it's fun!"
– Holly Tappen

"While other interests come and go, our children have remained steadfast and joyful in their study at The Art Academy. Both my son and daughter began lessons at age five: three years later, not only are they confident drawers and painters, they demonstrate a real appreciation for art. As a parent, it's gratifying to see children enjoying something that's also so clearly beneficial for their development as well-rounded people. On a practical level, it's lovely to see the investment in classes and supplies pay off, as the children use their art materials daily – and always have an interesting project at their fingertips. Finally, the staff at The Art Academy may be the best part of the picture: the talented teachers genuinely care about children and art, and their care is reflected in all their interactions and the work produced. We're counting the days until child #3 can join his siblings at The Art Academy."
— Mary Petrie

Nathan Kaufman, Age 13

"It's been a pleasure to know you guys. The passion for art which you gave me as well as many others is one skill that is truly invaluable, that I would not have achieved elsewhere."
— Nathan Kaufman

"Thanks for another great year of art class! I learn tons of new things every week, and I will definitely be able to use what you've taught me outside of class. Thanks again for an awesome experience!"
— Kyra Rahn

"When art opens, I'm so happy! When art class is finished, I'm so sad! Thank you for awesome art lessons. I can't wait to come back!"
— Lainie Rahn

"…My daughter Chelsea has taken classes at The Art Academy since she was 9 or 10 years old. Through the process of these classes she found a strength which has become a foundation for a positive belief in herself. This has sustained her through hard times and good times through the years. She has chosen a career in art therapy thanks to the nurturing of her talents and her spirit at The Art Academy."
— Sharon Fries 

Emily Tutelman

"Emily is very excited about starting her oil painting. She is very committed to continuing her studies with you.
Thanks to you for being such a good mentor for her and for all the encouragement she gets from all the staff."
— Kathy Tutelman

"I love the philosophy at The Art Academy: anymore can draw and paint, it just takes teaching the proper skills and practice, which is exactly what we found at their classes. My 6-year-old and 8-year-old get excited every week to come to class and have taken away some great best practices in just a few short weeks. They are learning skills that will forever build their artistic confidence. Everyone at The Art Academy is extremely kind and welcoming. We can't wait to sign up for more classes!"
– Ann Knuttila

"Elizabeth is thoroughly enjoying her art class with you. She looks forward to each class and hates to miss a session. Thank you for teaching and inspiring her."
— Ann Derr

Michelle Martin, Age 13

"…This 'Thank You' is long overdue. Over the past few years I've watched Michelle's artistic abilities blossom. She loves art class, looks forward to going every week, and always comes home in a marvelous mood…What you may not be aware of is the impact you've had on other aspects of her life. Her self-esteem has improved dramatically. She feels very comfortable in expressing her individuality and creativity. Thank you for encouraging this and for making her feel accepted for who she is. I truly appreciate the positive role you play in my daughter's life and will always be grateful."
— Patrice Martin

"These past 4 years at The Art Academy have been the highlight of my high school career. You all helped me create drawings and paintings that I never thought I had the ability to do. Thank you so much for everything you have taught me. I will really miss you guys, but don't worry. I will come visit when I get the chance!"
— Jina Bute

State Fair Winner!
Hannah Schumacher, Age 18

"Thank you so much for all you have taught me these past 8 years. Because of all of you, art became a huge part of my life and it has helped in so many ways. Even though I'm not going into art, the skills I have because of you guys has helped, and will continue to help, as I go into theater. You are all such wonderful, friendly people. I really can't say thank you enough for all of the fun times I've had. You guys have been my teachers longer than any others I've had. Keep this great place going. Thank you so much!"
— Hannah Schumacher

"Thanks for opening my eyes and teaching me how to see."
— Bob Butterbrodt


"I just wanted to say thank you for everything you have done for me and with me – I am grateful for everything I've learned. I really want to become a good painter, and the experiences I've had at The Art Academy have been invaluable."

Morgan McBride

Andrew Short, Age 13

"I've been going to The Art Academy since I was 7; now I'm 22. I've had 15 years of great memories….

"The Art Academy has given me confidence in my drawing and painting. If you stick with it you'll learn tons. Honestly, I'm still learning new thinks with every class."
– Andrew Short

LEFT: State Fair Blue Ribbon! Rachel Chelstrom, Age 16, Watercolor and Gouache
RIGHT: State Fair Blue Ribbon! Sarah Chelstrom, Age 16, Oil Painting

"We have been very happy with the art instruction our children have received at The Art Academy. The staff has been very helpful and encouraging for the kids. We feel they help them reach their full potential."
— Joyce Chelstrom

"My 7-year-old has not missed a session with The Art Academy since he turned age 5. He loves the format and gets so excited about his projects! It is a wonderful experience to have found instruction with a focus on quality over quantity, even with kids starting as young as Kindergarten."
– Lacey Welter

"Although I don't draw or paint too frequently anymore, the skills that I do have are largely the result of the tutelage I received at The Art Academy. The teachers break the drawing and painting processes down so that everyone, from the 5-year-olds to the adults, can understand and participate. They are also all amazingly kind and hilarious! My experience at The Art Academy could not have been better."
– Daphne Welter

Sam Welter
Oil Painting

"Amazing teachers who focus on process and quality over quantity. The Art Academy has distilled lessons of the ages into a remarkable system for learning how to draw and paint. Highly recommended for all ages."
– Sam Welter

"I've learned so much in my fours years of classes at The Art Academy. The focus on technique has pushed me to be a better artist. It's a great, great place with great people!"
– Brigid Golden

State Fair Blue Ribbon!
Maggie Mountain, Age 15

Dear Jim, Sarah & Paavo,

"Thank you for being such a source of happiness over the past 19 (!!!) years! You are such wonderful people and I'm honored to have been able to study and work for you as long as I did. I hope The Art Academy continues to do well and inspires inquisitive and creative kids and adults for years to come. I will be back often and will definitely be swinging by."

Love to you all,
Maggie Mountain

State Fair Blue Ribbon!
Andrea Fields, Age 15

"We are very grateful for the encouragement and support that you have given Andrea over the last couple of years. You have not only nurtured Andrea's artistic technical skills but also her self-confidence and self esteem."
— Vicki and Tom Fields

State Fair Winner!
Michaela Morse, Age 14
Watercolor and Gouache

Jim and Sarah,

"Albert Einstein once said, 'It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.'

"I would like to thank the two of you from the bottom of my heart for awakening these things in me, for investing in me your time and patience, for supporting me and believing in me from the start. For the two of you my heart has no bottom. The Art Academy will always be my home and my family. For all you do, for all you are, and for all you mean to me, thank you."

– Michaela Morse

State Fair Winner!
Ben King, Age 15

"Thank you so much for the work you do with Ben. Your encouragement, humor, and belief in Ben has added so much to his life."
— Barb King

Mary Shea, Age 17

"Myself and three of my children take classes at The Art Academy. The quality of the instruction is phenomenal. The program itself is teh result of years of careful research into the history and technique of painting and drawing. The classes will give you a profound respect for the great masters…. The teachers are warm and encouraging in helping you reach your artistic goals. I have highly recommended this school to my friends and family.

"Now, with kids of my own, I realize that I never really thanked you for being such a great role model and influence in my youth. Taking classes at The Art Academy are some of my fondest memories. Looking back, I wish I would have appreciated my time there ever more. So thank you Jim! You have been a great teaching and a great friend!"
– Mary Shea Trojak

Meaghan O'Shaugnessy
Pen and Ink

"Meaghan started taking classes at The Art Academy at age 9. Through the years she was involved in numerous activities, yet only art remained constant in her life. She is now graduating from high school and planning to pursue a degree in Art Education at the University of Wisconsin, Stout in the fall. The Art Academy has given her a sound solid foundation in art. She has grown up with it, and will carry that passion into her future career."
— Mary Ann O'Shaughnessy

State Fair Winner!
Callie Wilson, Age 18
Oil Painting

Dear Jim and Sarah,

"I have so many things to thank you for, You have been my mentors for my whole life, like a second set of parents who I live with each Saturday. Thank you for making art class such a lovely place to learn as well as work."

– Callie Wilson

"To date, this is one of the best educational experiences I have. Myself and all three of my siblings learned so so much from The Art Academy. It has truly been an invaluable experience."

– Francis Verner

State Fair Winner!
Thomas Verner, Age 16

"My experiences with art began when my parents decided that my sister, my brother and I would begin taking art lessons. The painting I produced first was simple, it was a green alligator painting in acrylic paint. After learning background, foreground and the different shading involved with both, I moved to creating watercolor paintings and pen and ink illustrations at nine years old. From these simple paintings I learned basic techniques, but I also learned the benefits of practice. Each class we would focus on our paintings, but from the first day of class we kept sketchbooks, and during our breaks my brother and I filled our sketchbooks with drawing of everything imaginable. Without even noticing it, I practiced.

"I began to think of trying to insure a level of proficiency in my work. I began more advanced techniques in an already difficult (watercolor) medium; mixing two colors in one wash, painting on a wet paper instead of a dry one, lifting pigment off of washes after painting them, adding opaque pigments to the paintings. I began adding complexity and depth to the paintings. With each painting came more practice, more experience, and more improvement. All of these things have helped me branch off as an artist, all the while improving my paintings. I'm constantly improving my artwork, I'm still nowhere near what I want to be able to do, and many things still escape me about art, and I do hope to keep creating as I move past high school.

"After all this practice, after all the time I've spent chasing ideas out of my head on to paper, I've gotten a different perspective on the concept of talent. I still have the first thing I ever made in art classes. It was not made by a talented boy. It is no better than any other artwork, made by any other six-year-old, anywhere. The difference between the artwork I make now and the artwork I made them is not 'talent', not gift, not innate ability. The difference is practice. For this reason, I'm not a big fan referred to as 'talented'. 'Talent' implies a level of unachievable skill, only for those given some gift at birth.

"Art has taught me a lot, and not just about lines and colors, but about the importance of practice, improvement, and persistence. It has grown to be one of the most rewarding portions of my life, and I am extremely grateful to have taken up drawing and painting."

  • – Thomas Verner

State Fair Winner!
Andrew Carr, Age 13

"…I'd like to take a moment and thank you and all the staff at The Art Academy for the valuable learning experiences we've had over the past seven years. During that time, our three sons (the youngest is just two – not quite old enough to attend classes yet) and I have all taken classes at The Art Academy.

Your vision and love for both art and kids is really evident. While we began with different challenges and levels of skill, each of us has made huge progress in our abilities to draw and paint and have gained qualities of self confidence and perseverance as well. In contrast to so much of art instruction, which emphasizes creativity but not the development of skills, The Art Academy's instructors clearly communicate the techniques of the masters in ways that have progressively challenged us to push the boundaries of what we thought we could create, and those self expectations were always exceeded. That's not to say that progress always came quickly and easily. I can recall times when each of us had come to obstacles in our pieces when we thought, "I just can't get this part right." The temptation to give up was pretty strong. Happily, we received instruction in those moments that was specific, practical, and encouraging – exactly what was needed to navigate the obstacle and gain the needed skills. I personally found the time I spent drawing and painting to be a really satisfying contrast to the routine of my work week.

We are always happily amazed by what we see when artwork is brought home. And this year there was a special bonus – each of our sons had entered pen and ink drawings and watercolors in the Minnesota State Fair competition and each was recognized with at least one ribbon!

Thank you for adding this really enriching dimension of creativity to our lives."
— Bill Carr

Molly Dekarski, Age 18
Oil Painting

"Growing up, art has always been my passion. For all I knew at age three, life could not possibly get better than digging my hands in paint and swirling them onto paper. Fourteen years later, I still feel the same way. Being an art nerd had always been great, but the only problem was that I was the only one who knew.

"In seventh grade, overcome by the dissatisfaction of middle school art classes, I discovered The Art Academy. The Art Academy is a wonderful establishment where people of all ages can learn and expand upon their art skills. When I looked in its window for the first time to see kids my ages happily drawing and painting, I instantly knew I belonged there. It was my very first time experiencing a group of people with my same interests, and I immediately felt at home. Years later, one of the owners pulled me aside and asked me if I would like to become a teacher there. I enthusiastically said yes, and started working a few weeks later.

"On my first day of teaching, I was surprised to see that all of the teachers and owners ate lunch together during lunch break. Being a little shy at the time, I was hesitant because I barely knew anyone. How was I supposed to make conversation? What could artists possible talk about? Even though I prepared to quietly eat my sandwich and nod along to whatever was said, I instantly lit up when another teacher started talking about how primary colored pigments were made in the prehistoric era. I realized, of course, that artists talk about ark, and that I could too. The time flew as one conversation led to another.

"As the weeks went by, our lunch break became a time to talk about anything imaginable, and we formed a strong community based on our shared love of art. As one year passed, I was amazed at how close I had become with everyone there, and I started noticing how my time spent with my coworkers affected the time I spent with people at school. I became the one who broke the silence at the lunch table, the one who could create conversation out of nothing, and the once who would ask someone their favorite color out of genuine interest.

"It has been three year since my first lunch at The Art Academy. I have not only been to spread my love of art and watch it grow in children like it did in me, but I have also been able to discover my extroverted self. I have learned that I love meeting new people and making them feel welcome, just like my coworkers did for me."

  • – Molly Dekarski

Gustav Dore (1832-1883)
Deer in Pine Forest c. 1865
Oil on Canvas

Hi Jim,

"While I was in Pittburgh, I got the chance to go to the Scaife Gallery at the Carnegie Museum of Art. Low and behold, one of my favorite painting is by Gustave Dore. All of these years I didn't realize that Dore was also illustrator, until I attended your Del Toro lectures.

"At first look, it seems like Dore's painting is of a lovely, peaceful spot in the woods. You see the outline of a few wolves that almost seem to be playing. Upon further inspection, though, there is a deer, holding perfectly still in the shadows.

"I always felt that there was a weir dbit a tension in this painting, and it always left me feeling a bit unsettled. Such a beautiful scene, yet…

"Now, I realized my instincts were right. Given that Dore was an illustrator/storyteller, he did this on purpose. If the deer moves, the wolves will attack it.

"Therefore, this beautiful peaceful scene is not what is appears to be on the surface, once you notice the deer in the shadow.

"Fascinating, how, as a younger child, I felt the psychological tension of this, but didn't understand is intellectually until 45 years later when I was able to put it in the context of the artist/illustrator. Now I realize that the animals and their placement where chosen for a specific purpose. Not because (as I naively though for many years) that they were just there to make a nice composition. I had missed this important part of the painting because my knowledge was so limited.

"This new understanding of the painting has made me realize the impact your teaching has had on my appreciation, understanding, and execution of art.

"Thank you for your commitment to sharing your knowledge. I feel that it is a great gift which you so readily impart, and I am ever thankful that I found you and The Art Academy."

  • – Kathy Gates Gilmore