Art Connections Abound in Gaithersburg with GFAA

Image | Allen Bentley “Alight” is a charcoal on paper by GFAA artist Allen Bentley.

Image | Allen Bentley
“Alight” is a charcoal on paper by GFAA artist Allen Bentley.

Most are aware of the intensely diverse demographic that Gaithersburg boasts, but did you know that its artist population is just as varied and overflowing with opportunities for inspiring and jump-starting creativity? Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Gaithersburg Fine Arts Association (GFAA), established 43 years ago.

The GFAA welcomes all media other than photography and three-dimensional pieces, mostly including painting, drawing, collage, mixed media, pastels and encaustic. “This allows us to have a focus so we can best serve our members,” said President Sandra Fretwell. “The organization was founded on education and our talks and meetings are meant to educate and inspire members.”

The group meets monthly in the Hefner Auditorium at Asbury Methodist Village and exhibits three member shows annually. Interested residents are always welcome at their meetings on the second Thursday of each month. Membership is open after attending two meetings.

Kentlands artist Jim Hoehn noted that the group “provides artists with an opportunity to meet and interact with local artists from the community. As a result of these interactions, I have been able to present my art in GFAA-sponsored competitions at the Arts Barn and the Maryland legislative offices in Annapolis.” He said that the group is a conduit between citizens of Gaithersburg and its resident artists and stressed that being an established artist is not a prerequisite—the collaboration, education and feedback from other artists will encourage the casual dabbler.

Deb Cohan, another Kentlands member, joined GFAA 14 years ago. She served on the Board of Directors for 10 years and echoed the positives of the group both for support and as a venue to spark new ideas and perspectives. “Being on the Board afforded me a great deal of experience, especially in setting up shows and how the jurying process works. New artists have the opportunity of finding a safe environment to learn, and I would encourage them to give us a try.”

Gaithersburg painter Matt Baker joined GFAA after retiring. “It gave me a place outside of classes to interact with other artists and get a feel for our community’s commitment to the arts.” He said that the group is growing and “there is a new vitality. … We are providing more activities for members and reaching out to other art organizations.”

An educational discussion on the process of art by Allen Bentley, an artist and figure drawing instructor at Montgomery College, was September’s program. Bentley spoke about process and how this is the working and reworking of art to add integrity and tangibility.

In his own work, Bentley specializes in drawing figures with intense movement—swimming couples and dancers—and he used several of his charcoal portraits as examples. His work is “all about motion and relationship, connection, give and take of a couple, the push and pull.”

He explained process as taking your work “from service level to visual experience” and stressed the importance of using good paper and soft compressed charcoal.

“With charcoal drawings, it is all black and the eraser does a lot of the work,” he noted.

The process is evident in the interplay of line and value, the play of light and dark, the motion that can be created with color. “Seventy-five percent of the drawing is the eraser. I use a bristle brush to apply the charcoal and draw it where I want it to go—not unlike painting. This finding and losing is key to my work,” he said.

Bentley will be the featured artist in “Let’s Dance,” a show at the Kentlands Mansion opening Jan. 17, 2020.

Fretwell talked about new opportunities and changes on the group’s horizon, particularly in the sharing of resources with local art groups. “This year, we plan to collaborate with other organizations to broaden educational aspects … growing, changing, expanding and adding shows for the future. We will be pooling resources with the Montgomery Art Association and the Art League of Germantown to bring in more experienced artists who we may not be able to afford on our own for opportunities to reach forward together and build a stronger art organization for the community.”

GFAA is partnering with the Gaithersburg Artist Collective to sponsor the Plein Air Paint Out at the Kentlands Oktoberfest on Oct. 13 at the Arts Barn. You can register at For more on GFAA, visit