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New Avon Business Educates Children Through Art, 'Messy Smocks'

Avon resident Numi Hwang opened the art school in Avon Village Marketplace in November.

While children are often discouraged from being messy, there's a new art school in Avon Village Marketplace that welcomes the mess.

The Avon Village Marketplace business, which opened in November, is aptly named Messy Smocks.

"This place, you're encouraged to make a mess," owner and Avon resident Numi Hwang said. "If you don't make a mess, you're in trouble."

At Messy Smocks, Hwang teaches students from 1-year-olds to seniors in high school. Most of her students are on the younger side. She looks to not only educate students through art, but also to use various mediums to let them be themselves and see the world through the creative lens.

"Art materials aren't just found in an art store," she said. "They're everywhere. It's just a matter of how you see. It's a matter of what you find and how you see the possibility."

She's brought in round cardboard from pizza boxes before, giving the children clues until they guess what they'll be making – pizza. As her students smeared paint on the cardboard, she prompted them to think about how they would create the sauce and cheese.

One wall in her classroom is pressed with prints of students' painted placemats. Across the hall, a wall of colorful circles in different forms represents a question Hwang often poses – if asked how to draw a circle, how would you draw it?

The most important thing Hwang instills in students is confidence, so they're not living life "fitting into a shape."

She described one student who had trouble drawing in school. After working with him, she assured him he already knew how to draw a rabbit. He was just afraid to make mistakes. Hwang sees art as problem solving and said it can teach kids to adapt to situations no matter what obstacles there are. They learn quickly from mistakes, she said.

"Creativity could change their future," she said.

In one project, she had children make clouds strung with bead raindrops, instructing them to think about the weather and the colors of rain.

"What if on a rainy day, we have colored rain drops?" Hwang said. "We cannot change the world, but how we perceive the world can change."

While society may often outcast people who don't conform, Hwang said, her philosophy is to appreciate differences and she supports her students' diverse ideas.

"I'm not here to judge," Hwang said. "The process to learn how to create, they can apply it to create themselves."

In another project about fish, Hwang acted out being a fish for the children. She asked them questions that put them in the perspective of a fish, such as "What color is my water." The final result may have been various portraits of fish in multi-colored water, but more importantly each is unique.

"Stories are not only found in the book," Hwang said. "Everything's possible. You hold the key."

Hwang was exposed to art at a young age. When she moved with her family from Korea to New York City at age 13, she didn't know any English. She concentrated on relating to the sounds and watched a lot of movies to teach herself the language, "learning from drama." Now she's fluent.

She did visual and performing arts in high school at Fiorello H. LaGuardia, the Manhattan school that the musical Fame is based on. She graduated from Parson's School of Design in New York City in 2001 and Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan for graduate school in 2003. She worked as an industrial designer and an art studio while in New York before meeting her husband, an Avon resident.

Some of her students at Messy Smocks are Korean or are learning English as a second language. She taught one Korean student to remember the word, "raccoon," by teaching her to relate the "behavior" of a racoon to "language."

It's Hwang's dream to build a school that teaches all academic subjects through an element of art, drama or music.

Messy Smocks is one step in that direction.

In addition to open studios and art classes for students as old as high school seniors, she has special classes called Art and Korean Culture, Family Art Day and Art in Mommy's Tummy. The space is also available for parties and she rents out one of the rooms for Liz Bohmier's Thursday Yoga Tales classes.

More information about Messy Smocks, including class schedules, is available on the art school's website, messysmocks.com or by calling 860-321-7173. Messy Smocks is located at 37 E Main St.

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