Whether it was through watercolors, paint or pencil, One River School of Art and Design made a mark on Montclair over the last year. 

The school in Seymour Plaza, which offers classes for everyone from the very young to adults, celebrated the first anniversary of its Montclair location last month. It has done workshops, summer school and fundraising events in town. Its flagship school in Englewood was started 10 years ago, and it now has 15 different locations across six states.

“It came from the idea, which is, we are trying to provide authentic arts enrichment to the suburbs,” said Erin Foley, director of the Montclair location. “Because often that type of education was only provided with a quality museum-level instruction.” 

Through One River, people in states like New Jersey, Texas and Oregon have had access to a “state-of-the-art facility” without having to venture into the city, Foley said.

The school starts accepting students as young as 3 and offers a range of classes for teenagers and adults. There are classes for every level of experience. 

Students are allowed to explore artistic freedom through different mediums and also learn about artists. 

Foley says that the school teaches its students through studying contemporary artists.

“When they look at those artists and they're seeing examples of their work, the students are learning how to digest a piece of artwork, how to ask questions around it, how to interpret it and how to recognize certain elements and principles,” she said. 

Most recently, students studied Eric Hibit, an artist known for his vibrant paintings and his incorporation of texture, Foley said. Students' re-creations of Hibit’s art are displayed on the wall in the school’s painting room, where they painted bright butterflies against a strikingly black background. 

Alongside learning about certain artists, One River hosts professional exhibitions several times a year for those artists. The community is invited, and the artists often do a workshop with the teens who attend the school. 

“A lot of times we study the work of people who’ve passed on, and those people are great and valid, and you can't talk to them, right, but you can read things about them,” Foley said. “But there's nothing like speaking to someone about their process. It's really special.” 

For Foley, connecting art to the people of Montclair has always been a passion. She taught in the ceramics program and AP art at Montclair High School for three years before starting at One River. Initially, she worked as an instructor for its summer camp, which took place virtually, and decided to stay on as a substitute teacher. 

When she heard that the school was opening a brick-and-mortar near her, she decided to try her hand at art management rather than teaching.

Last month, Foley partnered with Friends of the Howe House, an organization that is working to preserve the James Howe House, once owned by a freed slave, to hold a fundraiser, a night of artistic interpretation in which participants created their own version of the house. The event raised around $3,000, said Aminah Toler, a member of Friends of the Howe House. 

As One River continues to work to bridge the gap between the art community and the suburbs, Foley wants to make sure that the school is doing its part to give back to the community that she says welcomed it with open arms.

“I really believe in what we're offering here,” she said. “You know, and I see, I see so much joy on these kids' faces and the adults. There's a real opportunity for everyone here.” 

More information and the full list of classes and programs offered by the school: oneriverschool.com.

Students’ interpretations of artist Eric Hibit’s work, on display at the One River School in Seymour Plaza. (Talia Adderley/Staff)
Students’ interpretations of artist Eric Hibit’s work, on display at the One River School in Seymour Plaza. (Talia Adderley/Staff)
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