Above: Anne Wickham Smith with Artists and Kevin Macpherson’s Art Ambassadors in Guatemala.

Anne Wickham Smith recently transformed the purpose for creating artwork, using the sale of her paintings to raise substantial funds to help the women of a Guatemalan village, Xela.

Anne Wickham Smith spent the first 20 years of her career in video and film production. In 2004, she took some oil painting lessons and was hooked, going on to study with the some of the best oil painters in the country including Kevin Macpherson, David Leffel, Cathy Anderson, Qiang Huang, Stuart Dunkel, Donald Demers, Joe McGurl, Mary Erickson, Susan Lyon, Scott Burdick, Susan Gilkey, and recently Quang Ho.

Trained in classical painting for the first five years, she went on to develop a style that expresses her attachment to the beauty and serenity of the natural landscape. Anne’s years in the film industry have given her a unique talent for composition, an understanding of light, and an ability to work productively out in the field. She has painted all over New England, France, Italy, Ireland, and England. Anne is a member of The Berkshire Artists Guild, the Belmont Artists, and was recently accepted to the Oil Painters of America as an associate.

During the last few years, Anne has dedicated her art to a vital cause: supporting and empowering children in an impoverished area of Guatemala. This new direction came about after her experience on a painting expedition and workshop with Kevin Macpherson.

We interviewed Anne to learn more about how she’s helping those in need through her art

WIF: Firstly, how did you hear about Workshops in France, and why did you decide to sign up? 

Anne: I met Julie at a Plein Air Convention and Expo (PACE), and we talked about her program. I liked her immediately—she had a real energy to her, and I really thought she was going to be fun.

Initially, I went on a retreat, and what appealed to me was that painters were just basically getting together to paint in a beautiful place. Being able to just go paint with other painters was the whole attraction for me.

WIF: How do you feel the program has empowered you as an artist?

Anne: I think that I often go on these trips with some insecurity around my paintings and my work and so forth. They are a real affirmation for me because I realize that I am doing fine, and my work is okay. I get a lot of feedback from other artists, which is very helpful to me. Also, just kind of being forced into a situation where you have a schedule to paint every day is always helpful.

You learn and you get better the more you’re around other painters, as opposed to going on your own.

Julie also has really good instructors. We went with Quang Ho on the last trip, and to be able to be with him in a place like [a French château] is pretty rare and fantastic. It was really amazing. You just don’t get those opportunities. I mean, you can go to workshops with Quang, but not necessarily in a location like that, in an environment like that.

WIF: Talk about how you ended up becoming a board member of Xela AID.

Editor’s note: Xela is the name of a village in Guatemala, and AID is an abbreviation for Agency for Integrated Development.

Anne: A couple of years ago I went to a Plein Air Convention [PACE], and outside the convention hall there was a table set up with these two guys who were talking about going to Guatemala on a painting trip with Kevin Macpherson.

Number one, the idea of going with Kevin Macpherson—who writes books on the subject, is a really great teacher and painter, and with whom I’ve never worked—was a huge draw. But I also had a special connection with the location—years ago I went on a Guatemala trip with the relief organization Mercy Corps, and have a huge affinity with the people of Guatemala. It was a combination that I couldn’t resist, and I signed up immediately.

I went on the trip with the expectation of painting with other painters, and seeing Kevin Macpherson in action, in a beautiful place that I loved. But a whole other set of things happened on the trip that totally changed my life.

I knew nothing about Xela AID when I went, or what their connection was with these artists. It put me on a whole other path because we got involved with the population of a Mayan village west of Guatemala where we were providing service and bringing art projects to the children there. This is something that Kevin’s been doing with Art Ambassadors for quite awhile.

That part of the trip—meeting these Guatemalans and then getting involved in all the things I got involved with—was really enriching. It changed the whole trajectory of my art because now I’m raising money for Guatemala as opposed to just painting. It’s created a focus for me. I’m going back in November to paint with the Art Ambassadors again. 

It’s great that Julie, for example, in Workshops in France has taken an interest in my project, and that she even cares about what I’m doing. I think she’s interested in ways in which artists get inspired and how trips like this can really make a difference.

They’re an important connection that artists need to have, I think, by being with other artists.

Kevin Mcpherson, artist and founder of artambassador.org with the children of Xela

WIF: We understand you put on an art show to help fund Xela AID. Can you tell us about that?

Anne: I had a solo show in April, into which I put close to 30 paintings. When I invited people, I specifically said that the money that I earned from it was going to Guatemala. I ended up selling 18 paintings in 2 hours. It was huge—I hadn’t done that in years. It made me feel empowered to have people respond that way to putting my art efforts into something like that. I was just blown away.

I offered a free 8X10 painting to anybody who sponsored one child’s yearly tuition—a $350 commitment. 4 people signed up in one day, so that was huge for the program to get that. Then there were people who donated thousands of dollars. All in all, it was a big deal.

So, I want to continue that work.

And the more I talk to buyers, the more I discover that people are very interested in the artist’s story. I think that’s what’s changed me in thinking about art—you need to have a story. I feel that having a focus has changed the meaning art has for me.

WIF: Since you are now doing so, how do you feel artists can really make a difference?

Anne: The Artists Way, a book by Julia Cameron, talks about ways in which you can get something more out of your art for yourself, but I think what’s really important is to see how you can make a difference.

Last night I saw Yo-Yo Ma perform a solo concert of six Bach cello pieces, and it was just mind-boggling. In the middle of the performance he got up and said, “As artists, we need to leave our mark. We need to make a difference in the world. If making music like this touches people, then that’s what I’m doing it for.”

I was like, “Yeah!” That’s what you forget when all you care about is whether or not you just finish a painting and put it in a gallery. I’m trying to find ways to make my art more useful for the world.

WIF: How can our followers help?

Anne: There’s a trip coming up, the Art Ambassadors trip to Guatemala, October 30 to November 11. By going on that trip and donating to Xela AID, you’ll not only get a chance to work with these incredible kids, but you get to paint for 10 days in Guatemala. That’s one way.

And I think it was 9 out of 12 artists that went on that trip last year adopted a child. You couldn’t help it! You couldn’t go there and not want to help these kids, for $350, so they could go to school for a year.

People can sponsor a child by going to the xelaaid.org web site. You’ll see a button that says, “Volunteer in Guatemala.” Click on that, and you can either volunteer by going on one of these many trips, or you can volunteer by sponsoring a child. Or you can contribute to the building that’s being built—you know, there are many ways to contribute and help out.

Or, you can donate directly here.

Anne painting in a wonderful hilltop village with Workshops in France, Provence 2019.

Blogger: Julie Snyder

Julie Snyder is a professional artist and also the programs director of Workshops In France.  A native of Scotland, she is a seasoned traveler who splits her time between California and France.  You can learn more about her role with Workshops in France here.

Check out more blogs about art workshops, tips and hacks for artists traveling in France, Scotland and Italy.

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