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Dallas art studio fosters artists with 'diverse abilities'

 April Cross's mermaid, made at Verve Vertu Art Studio, is nearly five feet tall.
Sarah Scinto
April Cross' mermaid, made at Verve Vertu Art Studio, is nearly five feet tall.

April Cross has a few favorite subjects in her artwork: mermaids and horses.

“And sunflowers,” she said. “I’m a big fan of sunflowers.”

She’s an artist at Verve Vertu Art Studio, and as she prepared to display and sell some of her work at Wilkes-Barre’s Fine Arts Fiesta this week, she showed off the different materials and mediums that went into creating one of her latest pieces - a nearly five-foot tall mermaid lying in a rowboat.

“I was dreaming about a mermaid a long time ago,” she said. “I thought of a mermaid sleeping on a boat and wanted to create something inside of it.”

Painted popsicle sticks form the boat and braided and dyed strips of cheesecloth make up the mermaid’s multi-colored locks. Seashells adorn the mermaid’s tail and painted rocks display affirmations for a friend April says “moved on.”

The studio has been in its Dallas location for 12 years, Director Gwen Harleman said. It’s open every day for its artists to come and create all types of work.

“The mission of the Verve Vertu Art Studio is to tap into the creative energy of the community as a whole,” she said. “But primarily we work with a whole myriad of artists with diverse abilities.”

Many of the artists working at Verve Vertu have intellectual, physical or emotional challenges, Harleman said. The work they create can be sold to the public, and each artist receives a stipend from the sales.

Harleman mainly works with fiber arts herself, but at Verve Vertu, the artists can take on a variety of mediums. They work with watercolors, rice paper, fabric, acrylic paints and other materials.

Some of the most colorful pieces on display at the studio and in the boutique are made using a method known as batik, a technique that uses wax and dye to decorate cloth.

The studio has become known for this colorful style of work. Harleman said she tells people to just look for the most colorful booth at the Fine Arts Fiesta.

In Cross’ case, her work at Verve Vertu has led to a more specific line of work - her customers will commission her to create portraits of their dogs out of wool.

Cross looks forward to events like the Fine Arts Fiesta every year. She said she feels “joyful” knowing that people want to buy her artwork.

“It makes me feel happy that it’s going out there in the world,” she said. “It makes people’s hearts feel warm.”

Sarah Scinto is the local host of All Things Considered on WVIA. She is a Connecticut native and graduate of King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, and has previously covered Northeastern Pennsylvania for The Scranton Times-Tribune, The Citizens’ Voice and Greater Pittston Progress.