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Loretta Friend stands in a room full of plaster sculptures

Artwork from the surrounding area as well as from across the country is now under one roof at Elsie Earl Studios, Harbor Country’s newest art gallery and painting studio.

According to owner Loretta Friend, the 4,000 square foot gallery’s 16 artists include a photographer from Colorado who works for National Geographic, an artist from Maryland who specializes in folk art, and artists from Indiana and Michigan. Artists paint in a variety of mediums, from watercolors to colored pencils and pastels. In addition to paintings, there is also a range of photography and pottery. More than 150 pieces of art are displayed throughout the gallery.

“It’s a really good mix of styles and prices,” Friend said of the artwork.

The gallery/studio will be hosting an opening reception this Saturday, June 17, from 3 to 6 p.m. Guests can stroll the rooms in the studio, sipping wine and enjoying live entertainment. Musical guests will include: George Matthew, lead singer and guitarist for the band Midwest Hype; Ariel Buck, a singing jazz and musical theater musician who will be accompanied by Mona Coalter, staff accompanist at the University of Norte Dame as well as one of Elsie Earl Studios’ artists, and Jane Pellouchoud, a jazz and blues singer and guitarist.

Also featured at the reception will be an extra special guest, Ron Ferguson. A 1962 New Buffalo High School graduate, Ferguson was the first art teacher at the school. After graduating from Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Ferguson went on to teach in Michigan City, Indiana, before settling at New Buffalo High School for the next 35 years.

A large swath of the white wall in one of the gallery’s rooms is devoted to Ferguson’s paintings, which includes representational and abstract watercolor, pastel, acrylic paintings and color pencil drawings. Some of his pictures were inspired during his time abroad, when Ferguson visited Italy.

“There are lots of different ways to do artwork – it’s unbelievable,” he said.

As an art teacher, Fergueson was always trying to engage his students in creative projects. This included encouraging them to “decorate this school up,” as well as helping them see every project from a different perspective.

“I would throw pictures on the floor and look at them from a distance,” he said, adding that the students would mimic his actions.

Ferguson thanked Friend for offering a venue for his work, calling her the “impetus” of the whole gallery. Friend said she started her career in the media world, first working for Ann Arbor News (when they still did cut and paste, she said), and then moving on to a radio station after catching the “radio bug.” Friend worked for Michigan Radio in Detroit before eventually moving on to a sales job at Detroit Public Television. Soon, Friend decided the time had come to “recreate” herself, and she started an arts and crafts studio in Ann Arbor, Michigan. There, she offered plaster sculpture painting (“3D Painting”), dollhouse workshops, Indie book club meetings, senior craft mornings and adult painting classes.

After vacationing in the area for 25 years, Friend said she and her husband finally decided to buy a house and move to New Buffalo. Once in New Buffalo, Friend proceded to open her current studio. The space also includes a painting studio, where children and adults can paint plaster sculptures for birthday parties, girls’ night outings and scout and homeschool activities. Furguson said he may also be teaching some painting classes.

Friend said she also plans on bringing plaster to senior living centers, a tradition that began in Ann Arbor.

“It’s like coloring – it’s very relaxing,” she said.

Elsie Earl Studios is located in Frohne Hall adjacent to St. John’s United Church of Christ at 200 West Buffalo Street, which is right next door to New Buffalo City Hall. Springtime hours are 3 to 6 p.m. Friday through Sunday and 1 to 5 p.m., starting in mid-June. For more information, contact loretta@elsieearlstudios.com, 734-646-6633 or visit www.elsieearlstudios.com. “Like” the studio on Facebook at www.facebook.com/LorettasArttoGo. Visitors can also stop by the Elsie Earl Studios booth at the New Buffalo Farmer’s Market on Merchant Street Thursdays from 4-8 p.m.