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A passion for art

Fort Lincoln instructor has gained a following

(Published June 18, 2001)


Staff Writer

Serious about his art
Thomas Brumfield, with brush in hand, demonstrates technique as he examines student Walter White’s progress on a landscape he is painting in one of Brumfield’s art classes at Fort Lincoln’s cultural center. Brumfield’s enthusiasm and skills have gained him a following.

The 78-year-old man nodded his understanding.

The painting that Walter White had been working on for three days was under the intense scrutiny of instructor Thomas Brumfield.

"See that? You got to get that shadow in there," Brumfield said. "Those trees don’t have enough color – I can see too much of the canvas."

Brumfield, 54, became the fine arts director and manager of the Theodore R. Hagan’s Cultural Center in Fort Lincoln in Northeast Washington eight years ago after being transferred to the senior services division in the Department of Parks and Recreation. But his passion for art began long before that.

"I liked it from infancy, before I could even spell art," he said. When he was in grade school, his teachers would take him to art galleries. Each year when he passed to the next grade, his new teacher quickly learned of his love for art.

"Teachers would catch me drawing when I should have been doing mathematics," he said. But they encouraged him to continue, he said.

Brumfield graduated with a fine arts degree from Columbus College of Art in Ohio and a fine arts and design degree from Howard University in the 1970s. He taught art illustration and portrait painting at the University of the District of Columbia under the Washington Saturday Colleges program in the 1980s. Brumfield’s floral design experience came from working as a florist for 10 years and making floral arrangements for weddings and funerals.

Since then, his love of art has kept him busy. He has painted more than 400 portraits and pictures, some of which have sold for $600 to $3,000.

"And I know all of them," he said about the people he’s painted.

Brumfield teaches ceramics, watercolor painting, acrylic painting and floral design. The center also offers crocheting and knitting, but "I leave that to the ladies," he said.

Some of the senior citizens who attend his classes have become such fans and students that they have taken his classes for years. White began the classes two years ago.

"I didn’t know how to paint when I started," he said. "I keep my practice paintings so I can look back and see if I’ve improved."

Brumfield encourages his students and when they’re disappointed with their work, he is quick to assure them that all it takes is time. But what his students do produce, he loves to show off like a proud father.

"Some of my seniors did this right here," he said, motioning to a table with different ceramic pieces. Much of the work done by Brumfield’s students is displayed in the lobby of the Fort Lincoln cultural center, although it is temporarily removed for the summer swimming season.

Zimena Underwood, 69, is one of Brumfield’s students. She started going to classes five years ago and now attends twice a week.

"I started out making flowers out of stockings," she said. "Now I wish I could come everyday."

James Carter, 73, said he knows what makes Brumfield a good teacher.

"He’s so versatile," he said. "I don’t see how he can retain all that information."

Some of Brumfield’s work is quite time consuming. He can spend anywhere from a week on a four-piece ceramic of dolphins to four months on a portrait that was painted one dot at a time. With all of his art classes keeping him busy, the amount of time Brumfield can spend on his own art each day varies.

The art projects not only take time but money as well. Students buy whatever they need for their choice of art, such as acrylic paints and a canvas or a ceramic piece. They also pay a fee per art session just for Brumfield’s instructions on what to do with the materials. Each fee depends on the activity. A ceramics session, which lasts three months, costs $25. Even though the money comes out of their own pockets, many of the senior citizens enjoy what they do.

"It’s therapeutic and relaxing," White said.

Brumfield tries to keep their spending at a minimum and even lets some of the seniors use his own supplies.

"I’ve seen some spend $100," he said.

Classes run all day, so the students can come and go and work as long as they want.

"We give them the freedom to express themselves," Brumfield said.

A.B. Morgan, regional manager of the Department of Parks and Recreation for Wards 5 and 6, said he hears nothing but positive feedback about Brumfield. Brumfield even received a recognition plaque from the mayor earlier this year.

"They said he knows exactly what he’s doing," he said. "He’s a good teacher because of his experience, knowledge, commitment and dedication."

Hilda Fobbs, 66, has known Brumfield for 10 years. She said she likes how he goes about coaching his students.

"He doesn’t do it, he makes you do it," she said. "When you think you can’t do it he shows you that you can."

Brumfield said he is planning to propose a more comprehensive art program for the recreation department, because he would like to get residents of all ages involved in programs similar to what he teaches senior citizens now.

He said he doesn’t expect his seemingly boundless energy and enthusiasm toward his work to give out anytime soon.

"I hope not," he said. "This has been my whole life."

Copyright 2001, The Common Denominator