Each fall and spring, budding Cassatts and Renoirs have the opportunity to participate in the DMA's Art Exploration Classes. Small groups of kids 3 to 5 years old, each with a parent or guardian, spend an hour on a single artistic element such as color, patterns or texture. And because the classes explore the DMA as well as create there, they provide the perfect demystifying opportunity for kids to learn to feel comfortable in a museum. "We begin by pretending that we're detectives as we search the galleries for examples of the topic that we're studying that day," says Catherine Norman of the DMA. "Then we go back to the studio and do exercises centered on that topic, and they leave with a piece of art." Norman says both kids and adults "behave really well" during the classes, and the artwork is particularly treasured because two generations are involved. And it's a bargain: The classes cost $5 for DMA members and $15 for non-members. This fall, classes will be October 4 and October 25.

Portraiture isn't exactly a lost art, although fewer painters choose it as their area of specialty now than they did in the time of Renoir. The demand has changed a bit since the camera was invented. Even well-intentioned, sentimental people who ache to capture the charm of their 6-year-olds, or their moms, dads and grandmothers, spend great wads of cash at some high-priced photography studio, only to be slightly disappointed in the great, glossy, hyper-realistic, frozen midsmile images that they dutifully hang over the fireplace. There is, of course, an alternative. Dallas boasts one of the most innovative, creative and recognized portrait artists in the Southwest. Known for her expressive nature and wide-open personality, Connie Connally paints unique and personal portraits that reveal little nuances and details about her subjects that surprise and delight the people who commission her work. She has a nontraditional approach to portrait "sitting," preferring to visit her subjects in their homes, making animated sketches and taking photographs while she talks with them. Connally takes her research into the studio and comes out with dramatic, detailed faces with exaggerated cheekbones, poignant and expressive eyes and determined chins. Connally's instant affinity with the people she paints is her secret, although years of study and work have honed her technique. In 2000, she crafted 90 portraits into a piece of fine art called "People I Know," which debuted at Craighead-Green Gallery and was selected for exhibitions through 2003 at galleries throughout the Southwest and California.

Best Portraits That Are Also Art

Paul McKay

The piercing blue eyes of executive assistant P.J. Vitruk stare from a page of Paul McKay's sample book. The crimson of the regal chair in which she poses seems to infuse her silver hair, as one elegant index finger rests lightly on the rim of the object she holds, the focus of the portrait: her martini glass. You want to have a drink with this woman. "I don't paint photographs," says longtime Dallas artist McKay. "I try to bring the subject's personality to life by letting the colors collide and bounce off each other." He thumbs through the book of faces, famous and otherwise, and you begin to see what he means. One of the most striking of the images is a self-portrait done almost in pointillist style. Rendered and surrounded by surprising color choices, the amazingly youthful, nearly unlined face of the 73-year-old artist invites you to look beneath the surface at the creative mischief within his heart. Many portrait subjects seek to be flattered by the removal of pounds or years. McKay flatters through a revelation of the soul. Prices start at $3,500.

Until 2001, University Park had the peculiar distinction of being the nation's largest city without its own public library. Until then, residents had been able to use the Highland Park Library without charge. When that changed, an energetic group of volunteers called Friends of the University Park Public Library held book sales and other fund-raisers, allowing the new library to open in a bank building. Last year, librarian Lee Schuey, a veteran of 30 years with the Dallas Public Library, was hired. Now, according to Friends President Carol Ann Luby, the library boasts more than 50,000 books, videos, CDs and audio books. "We offer evening lecture programs in the fall and spring and have just completed a kids summer reading program," Luby says. "And our catalog is going online at www.uplibrary.org." Best of all, there is no University Park residency requirement, so all are welcome. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.

For the past nine years, this writing and illustration competition has been making a difference in the lives of students at this mostly minority school in East Dallas by matching them with professionals who mentor them through a semester-long project. The mentors and young writers and artists usually meet for about an hour each week during the fall, and the work is assembled into a glossy booklet distributed at the program banquet in April. According to KWC founder Larry Estes, "Working with adult professionals helps our young writers develop skills and discipline that they just can't get from normal class work. Moreover, since many KWC participants come from homes where English is not spoken, this program gives them confidence in their abilities. Nearly 100 percent of our winners [three prizes are awarded in both the writing and illustration categories] go on to Talented and Gifted DISD schools. Since most of the mentors return year after year, it's obviously rewarding for them as well." Estes says there's always room for more mentors and those interested should give him a call.

America loves an underdog, the saying goes. And we do, too. While it's consistent in the quality of the exhibits it organizes, Photographs Do Not Bend doesn't get the shower of praise some one-hit-a-season wonders do. PDNB represents artists working in a wide range of photographic styles and also owns a specialized archive of pictures. No matter what the exhibit is--themed collection from the archives, semi-famous contemporary photographer--it's worth driving down Routh Street and looking for this little house.

The best public sculpture is something that doesn't blend into the background of everyday life. No matter how many times--every day, once a week, once a year--that it's seen, it never ceases to attract attention. Meet "Harrow," a steel sculpture in Lubben Plaza Park. It always amazes us. A giant rust-brown cone that resembles a household screw enlarged to the size of a child revolves around a sand-covered track, making a complete circle once a day and creating rings in the sand. Artist Linnea Glatt designed it to move slowly and effortlessly, so you never actually see it making its revolution. But pass by it a few hours later, and you'll notice its progress and the concentric circles. And you'll keep noticing it.@choice:Pegasus - Atop the Magnolia Hotel 1401 Commerce St.

Don't get us wrong. We like UFO stuff and The Lost City of Atlantis and health supplements and crop circles and magnetic shoe arches and secret government experiments. This is the stuff of life, the fruit of the twisted imagination. We just have a difficult time taking it in its raw, unadulterated form. When filtered through the monthly debunking machine of this sharply edited newsletter, though, it's perfect. We get our Face on Mars cake and a list of the bizarre ingredients, too. It's like reading Hollywood gossip crunched and analyzed by The New York Times. Brought to you by the fine minds of the North Texas Skeptics club, the newsletter features short items and long essays written by an array of local physicians, scientists and academics. Of course, you have to join to get it or, like us, pretend you are a member of the Fourth Estate. For details, visit their Web site at www.ntskeptics.org.

We're looking forward to the day when someone clones Mayor Laura Miller. That woman is so busy busting nicotine addicts and one-legged beggars--and fixing to drive the Dallas Cowboys away--that we're certain she does the work of two Laura Millers. And wouldn't a second Laura Miller be a treat for Mr. Laura Miller! This year, however, Dr. Zech Dameron's cute little longhorn clones are the best in the barnyard. The good doctor had three of them--exact copies of his monster longhorn Starlight--but he sold one late last year to an exceedingly wealthy individual from Houston. With the endless march of scientific progress, the Observer is looking forward to making this an annual "best of" category. If you clone someone or something--livestock, reptiles, city officials, whatever--please drop us a line, and we'll put your clone to the test.

Dallas' big Soviet-style downtown projects--the stalled and poorly named Victory development, for one--get all the ink and ire. The city center's real victories have been won where someone has thought small: the Jeroboam restaurant, the Umlaut bar and a host of others that are just getting out of the blocks. This year, Stone Street Gardens, in the heart of the grid, added itself to the list, and it's a consumer hit. A handful of restaurants, including local chains Campisi's and Izmir and the stand-alone Metropolitan, have sprung up on the block-long walkway, and they're frequently packed. The city center's first news/coffee/bagel stand--and it's not a Starbucks--halfway down the pedestrian thoroughfare adds a touch of urban sophistication. Although they did it with a chunk of city money, they did it without a grand, 10-block, five-year plan.

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