Pictured above: Andrea and Barbara Becker.
Art for Fun Studio and Gallery, located at the intersection of “fine arts” and “crafts” in central Phoenix, could not be more aptly named. AFF gives off an eclectic gallery vibe, but in essence, it’s a teaching studio where students can let their imaginations run wild with possibilities. Visitors are immediately drawn to the cheery ambiance and dramatic, colorful, glass wind chimes that grace the front windows upon entering. Shelves display copious amounts of hand-built pottery pieces, fused glass jewelry, plates, bowls and platters screaming “make me.” In addition to glass and hand-built pottery classes, owner Barbara Becker, along with her daughter Andrea, teach silk painting, acrylic painting and watercolor classes and mosaics made with clay and glass. According to Barbara, “It’s a nonintimidating and relaxed environment where you can learn art in a fun way. Often people come in wanting to buy something, but I encourage them just to make it themselves.”
The beauty of AFF lies in its “open studio concept” and small, intimate classes. “Anybody can start at any time,” says Andrea. “You can have a beginner with people who have been here for three years. Students are always feeding off each other and inspiring each other.” Another feature of AFF is that kids 6 and up are welcome to create art or even indulge in summer camps.
Outgoing, and possessing a keen sense of humor, Barbara has been a member of Beth El Congregation since l987 and is currently president. When not involved with synagogue responsibilities, she loves nothing more than teaching art. “So many people will tell me they have no talent or creativity,” says Barbara. “I always tell them not to worry, because I have enough for both of us,” she says laughing.
AFF is a true community magnet. Girls’ night out, date nights, team building, kids classes, family parties, birthday bashes and family fun days all contribute to the studio’s growing popularity. Some students come weekly, while others come for a particular event. “Many times the students form friendships and meet outside the studio,” says Barbara.
Jewish women’s groups such as Brandeis, Hadassah, Chabad and Temple Beth El Women’s League also gravitate to this kaleidoscope of a studio due to the tantalizing array of Judaica projects available. Examples are mezuzot, Chanukah plates, matzah plates, hamsas (glass and clay), sedar plates and challah covers, acrylic paintings and even silk tallitot. To spark creativity, Barbara and Andrea frequently show students sample pictures in books in addition to looking at pieces in the studio.
Classes and conventions taken with eminent glass artists all across the United States have contributed to Barbara’s intimate knowledge of glass fusion. “My five-day class with artist and writer Richard La Londe in Washington was fabulous,” she says.
Originally from South Africa, Barbara received a teaching degree in Cape Town, as well as a master’s degree in remedial and gifted education. After relocating to the United States in 1984, she fully submerged herself into Jewish education and art endeavors, teaching a full spectrum of painting, drawing and even Art Masterpiece classes. The Jewish Valley Day School, Solomon Schechter Day School in Phoenix (which she founded in 1987), King David School in Scottsdale and Beth El Synagogue in Phoenix all utilized her unique talents. “The fact I have a teaching background helps me get things across to people,” she says. “I do everything step-by-step, which helps people relax. I always keep in mind the fact they have never done this before.”
Barbara’s talents extend far beyond the walls of AFF. In 2010, Beth El Synagogue commissioned her to create an eight-foot by eight-foot fused glass mosaic mural. The commanding piece, titled “Jerusalem Wall” took nine months to create and is prominently displayed in the lobby as a donor wall.
Entering the wall into an international glass competition, Barbara was delighted to have tied for second place with an Australian artist who won first place with a 22-foot dragon. “Soon after, I took a five-day class with her,” says Barbara. “When I told her who I was, she told me what an honor it was to study with me, and I told her I felt the same way about her. It was truly a mutual admiration society,” she says laughing.
Barbara has the parents of her students to thank for the inception of AFF. They caught the same “art bug” their kids did and lobbied Barbara to teach them as well. “A light bulb went off,” she says. “After all these years of teaching children, I found out how rewarding it was to teach adults. I realized how many adults have had negative experiences with art; they don’t know how to draw or create. I have created a safe environment for them to do that. They can learn and not be afraid to be criticized. It’s not art school – it’s just recreational.”
For more information on Art for Fun Studio and Gallery, contact Barbara at 602-274-6441 or visit art4funstudio.com.