The Soul of PEAS

Photo | Marylou Bono  PEAS Director Nannette Horan leads a summer workshop.

Photo | Marylou Bono
PEAS Director Nannette Horan leads a summer workshop.

I knew that PEAS was a happy place when I strode up the walk and was welcomed by its beaming director, Nannette Horan, surrounded by drying artwork, still life displays, ceramic pots and rows and rows of art materials. I had the urge to start creating, but we dove right in with the story of how Positive Energy Art Studio—PEAS—came to be.

“I was always given kudos when I did artwork,” Horan said, smiling. “’She’s got something there, people said!’” Horan studied art education and art therapy because she liked the idea of helping people through art.

And in college, she fell in love with teaching. “I find kids much more fascinating than adults,” she explained. Her first teaching job was in a small rural community in New York. “The principal gave me free reign to be creative and learn from my mistakes. That’s my philosophy with kids,” she said.

A move to California for her husband’s job landed her setting up art camps in Irvine. Her time there gave her the opportunity to diversify. Some schools had no arts programs, and she taught subjects such as self-esteem, physical science and ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages).

“I still keep in contact with some of those students,” Horan said. “We bonded over being new in a new place, and it helped me understand that we’re all the same regardless of language. Art is how we communicated.”

Twenty-four years ago, Kentlands was the last stop on her house-hunting tour. The information center was located in what is now the Arts Barn and an art class was in session there. Horan said to herself, “I want to live in this community where arts are valued.”

She was hired as a part-time teacher with Montgomery County Public Schools, which allowed her to spend time at home with her two daughters. Later she made a full-time move to Rachel Carson Elementary and has been there for 20 years. She also teaches at Great Seneca Creek Elementary. “I love both schools,” she said. “They are close in distance but with different populations.”

An art studio was a dream that she had talked about with her friends since college. About 10 years ago, she began converting her garage. It is now a three-story building packed with all kinds of treasures waiting to be explored and created. Her minor was in ceramics, but she works in whatever medium suits her idea. She likes this flexibility and tries to impart it to her students—to offer them the chance to try everything and encourage them not to be too rigid.

Workshops are kept small—usually 10 students in the “messy” studio on the first floor and 10 in the drawing or “less messy” second floor. Age ranges are typically from after kindergarten through high school and also include adults. The very popular open studio gathers all ages. One can come in with an idea and get help to bring it to fruition—or just pop in and create something with inspiration from the materials and stations set up with suggestions and examples of techniques.

The slightly more structured workshops run for six weeks after school and five weeks in the summer. Horan strives to plan projects that cannot be done in school. The kids “need the studio to make them explore themselves.” She loves seeing the relationships develop between younger and older children. Younger ones have fewer inhibitions so their ideas can seem off the wall. The older kids love that, and it creates a melding of the two that provides a heightened learning experience for all.

Summer workshops have a theme and this year’s is “Artists in Their Studios.” Participants are challenged to think about how they would set up their studio, what kinds of things would inspire them and what kinds of projects would they do in their own space. They have been visiting local artists’ studios, and some artists have come to PEAS. Last week was sculpture and woodworking, this week painting and next week fibers and fashion. Workshop participants had an opportunity to throw a pot on the potter’s wheel set up in the courtyard after visiting Kentlands ceramicist Pam Berry’s studio, and they did reductive soap sculpture after experiencing woodturner Tim Aley’s presentation.

Horan said she tries to find a happy medium—a safe place for kids to be understood and explore their creative ideas. “Kids love it,” she said. “We have ‘PEAS’ kids. They come back every year. It is a perfect neighborhood for it. Some kids walk or ride their bikes over.”

Visit to learn more. “Kids don’t (often) get to be on their own and working together,” Horan said. “This gives them a chance to experience that. It is interesting to see their thought processes. … They already know so much.”