ELLSWORTH — Painting watercolors and making Chinese-style dumplings both demand a deft hand. Loading your brush with too much paint and overfilling the delicate wrappers leads to leaden results. Creating pot stickers and watercolors each has its own series of steps to follow and light, skillful handling of the tools and material is gained over time.
Two pros in their fields, Ellsworth artist and educator Mary Laury and Bath chef and instructor Chris Toy are teaming up to share their expertise and teach plein-air watercolor and international cooking from 1 p.m. Friday, Oct. 29, to 11:30 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 31, at the Old River House in Kennebunkport. Schoodic Arts for All’s former executive director, Mary officially retired Aug. 15. A former Freeport Middle School Principal, Chris has enjoyed a parallel career teaching Asian cooking and other international cuisines ever since his college days lugging cases of instant ramen and 25-pound bags of rice to cook for himself at Bowdoin in the mid-1970s. For years, Toy has taught how to make ramen, stir-fry, egg rolls, egg drop soup and other Asian dishes at Schoodic Arts for All.
Working together over the years, Chris and Mary have developed a certain chemistry. Both inquisitive, the extroverted chef and artist delight in the world’s different art forms and culinary traditions. Watercolors and Chinese cuisine also can be intimating, but both teachers seek to instill confidence in their students and help them overcome self-doubt and enjoy the process of learning new pursuits.
“So many people who come into my classes are filled with trepidation and anxiety because they’re told ‘I can’t do this, I am not an artist,’” Mary reflected over coffee outdoors at Flexit & Bakery in Ellsworth. “There’s a logical sequence. This is the way to give them confidence. That’s really all they need and the rest will follow.”
Back in the 1980s, Laury recalls being mentored by the late Ellsworth artist Sarah Elizabeth Look. She credits Look for teaching her how to capture different flowers’ unique forms and habitat in watercolor. She continued her visual art odyssey, seeking out artists whom she admired to share their expertise. Eventually, the roles reversed and the working artist signed on to teach, painting, drawing and ballroom dancing at Schoodic Arts’ inaugural arts festival in 1999. By then, her work was carried in at least six galleries. She went on to stage the group’s first visual arts show and was later hired as Schoodic Arts for All’s first executive director.
Chris, teaching “Wok Top Cooking” and “Ramen Made Simple,” was among the 2021 Schoodic Arts Festival’s many instructors hired by Mary. In another role reversal, the prolific cookbook author (“Ramen Made Simple,” “Easy Chinese Cooking”) invited Mary to team up with him on the eve of her retirement. Through Acadian Arts Retreats, the two creatives have cooked up a fun weekend for home cooks and artists. Participants reserve rooms at Kennebunkport’s Old River House, where Chris and Mary lead separate cooking and watercolor painting sessions, but both groups converge for meals prepared by Chris and his culinary students.
Chris’s 12-hour international cooking class will include outings to the local seafood and farmers markets, preparation of four complete meals and instruction of wok, knives and pasta maker care. Among the prepared food and dishes will include handmade noodles, stuffed pasta, sauces, maki rolls, Asian hotpot and desserts.
Under Mary’s tutelage, her workshop will kick off with a Friday afternoon demo and lesson. She starts beginners with just five colors — alizarin crimson, French ultramarine blue, New Gamboge yellow, olive green and burnt sienna — squeezed from tubes onto a palette. A crucial skill, she says, is leaving enough of the paper’s white “or it’s gone forever.” A demo and outdoor painting session follow on Saturday. Sky, water and rocks will be the focus. By Sunday morning, participants will have a finished seascape or two.
Watercolor — the collision of water and paint — weaves its own magic. “It’s really an exercise in letting go. Letting the medium do what it does best,” she says. “Overworking it, it loses all the luminosity that watercolors are famous for.”
Putting people at ease, though is uppermost in her mind.
“Helping people discover their creativity” is what she strives for. “If it brings people happiness and joy, it’s a success.”
To sign up for Acadian Art Retreats’ Oct. 29-31 workshop, go to https://windham.maineadulted.org/course/acadian-arts-retreat/ or contact Chris Toy at (207) 653-3163.