Leighton Dawson with Mindy

Leighton Dawson with Mindy

by Lou Mancinelli

For teaching artist and Germantown resident Mindy Flexer, painting is like a magic trick. Part of her goal is to make you see more than just what’s painted on the canvas. “I’m interested in how you make that flat surface look like it’s three-dimensional,” said Flexer during a recent conversation about her approach to art.

“Painting is my response to being another transient creature cherishing a passing moment. Painting’s first magic trick, turning a two-dimensional jigsaw puzzle of light shapes and shadow shapes into three-dimensional forms, creates its second magic trick, transforming those forms into metaphor and meaning.”

Flexer has made a career teaching art at area schools, such as Greene Street Friends School, where she taught from 1996 to 2004. She now offers classes at her home studio, the Mindy Flexer Art School in Germantown, where she has lived and taught since 1997. In addition, she is on the Mt. Airy Learning Tree (MALT) teaching roster, through which Flexer is currently offering courses on “Drawing and Painting for Adults and Teens” and a children’s art class. She also teaches at The Bridge Way School, Philadelphia’s only “recovery” high school.

“As one of my favorite teachers, Bill Daley, once said, making things is like jumping into an empty swimming pool that will fill up with water when you are in the air,” said Flexer. “That is also true of teaching … Taking the leap over and over as an artist has taught me how to nudge my students off the diving board; seeing them jump renews my faith in my own work … Teaching is like reading 20 incredible mystery novels at the same time since you discover each student’s talents and personalities.”

Flexer’s arc of artistic development has transitioned from the reed to the brush. It started with the clarinet, took her to Japan for a fellowship in pottery, led her to the University of the Arts to study pottery and ultimately led her to the canvas.

Flexer, born in Massachusetts and raised in Colorado and the daughter of professors, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in music from Oberlin College in Ohio in 1984. She played clarinet.

“Going to art school was a foreign concept,” she said.

Bonnie Libby is obviously enjoying her painting class at the Mindy Flexer Studio School, 5225 Greene St. in Germantown. Flexer is also currently teaching Mt. Airy Learning Tree courses.

Bonnie Libby is obviously enjoying her painting class at the Mindy Flexer Studio School, 5225 Greene St. in Germantown. Flexer is also currently teaching Mt. Airy Learning Tree courses.

But pottery had always been part of her creative palette.

After graduating from Oberlin, she received a grant to study pottery in Japan for a year. She was attracted to the way Japanese potters went about their craft and “the kind of seamlessness between their home living and their creative lives.”

Flexer found a new perspective on the value of creating ceramics while in Japan, so she came to Philadelphia in the mid-‘80s to study pottery under someone she greatly admired, the renowned Bill Daley at the University of the Arts. By 1989 Flexer had earned her second bachelor’s degree, this time in ceramics.

She set up her studio at 9th and Spring Garden Streets near Center City. This was about the time she discovered porcelain and color, and after she put her pots in the kiln to finish, the intense heat required to settle the clay into a pot changed the color of what Flexer had painted.

Sometime in the mid-‘90s Flexer started painting more on canvas and less on pottery. She had just been hired at the Baldwin School in Bryn Mawr in 1996 as a one-semester sabbatical replacement. She quickly fell in love with teaching art.

Today, Flexer, 52, is represented by the Artists’ House, 57 N. 2nd St. in Old City. She refers to herself as a representational artist, and she has continued to take courses, including many through the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. “I’ve been on an observational quest for many years now,” she said, “and I find it endlessly rewarding.”

Flexer earned her master’s in art education from Tyler School of Art in 2001. The income from teaching allows the localite to paint what she wants instead of having to worry about whether or not her work is commercial. “I really appreciate not having economic pressure on the artwork,” said Mindy, who resides with her husband of four years, David Thompson. “I realized that if I wanted to teach the way I really want to, I had to set up my own operation … I feel acutely aware of being one of the links in the long chain of artists teaching other artists. I am grateful to be part of this tradition…”

For more information about the classes taught by Flexer, call MALT at 215-843-6333 or visit www.mindyflexer.com.

Flexer’s work will be in a show at the Artists’ House opening Feb. 28 for one month called “On the Edge: Looking with New Eyes.” More information at 215-923-8440.