The healing power of art: CoachArt program partner Pastimes for a Lifetime
“We inspire each other.” ~Linda Wehrli, CoachArt program partner
“I like going to work because I like my students,” says Linda Wehrli, founder and teacher at Pastimes for a Lifetime, an art and piano school in the San Fernando Valley of California that has provided free lessons for CoachArt kids since 2003. Program partners like Pastimes for a Lifetime are a driving force in the CoachArt community.
Linda spoke with us recently about her experience helping kids develop their artistic skills, and what inspires her to be a longtime CoachArt program partner.
CoachArt: What led you to create an art and music school?
Linda: I’m an artist and a trained concert pianist. I’ve been drawing since age 5, and painting since I was 12. I’ve been taught by some really great instructors from places like Julliard and the Berklee School. I love drawing, painting, and playing piano, but I’ve always wanted to be a teacher too. I started teaching in 1989. I was hired by a private school that sort of force-fed their students a step-by-step curriculum. I wanted to try something different, so I opened my own school. At first I taught in my little one bedroom, one bathroom apartment, and I also traveled to students’ homes and taught them there. Now we’re in a cottage studio in Valley Glen, northwest of Los Angeles. We have a beautiful Zen rock garden with 40 foot bamboo in the yard. Inside we’ve got cement floors and pine paneling, and it’s cozy.
CoachArt: What’s different about your approach to teaching art?
Linda: I developed an art curriculum partly as a response to what I observed in other schools I had taught in. I knew what worked for me, and I had also seen what wasn’t working, so I translated that into a curriculum that works for pretty much everyone. I focused on what the brain and hand are doing. I have students do hand-eye coordination exercises before they start drawing. I’m the daughter of an engineer, so I’m logical and methodical in my approach. If students are frustrated about not being able to draw as well as they like, I have exercises that help them get control of the pencil, and then I teach them how to measure, and they learn how to fix what’s not working, and then they’re empowered to be the artists they want to be. And with piano lessons, I don’t just give my students songs to practice, which just seems like “edutainment” to me. I work with students on the physical and mental aspects of playing music, including posture and relaxation. I named my school “Pastimes for a Lifetime” because I’m nurturing creative pastimes that will last for a lifetime.
CoachArt: How did you get involved with CoachArt?
Linda: I joined the Rotary Club of Sherman Oaks/Studio City in the mid-’90s, and in the early 2000s CoachArt co-founder Leah Bernthal came and gave a presentation. CoachArt was a new organization at the time. She and I chatted and she asked me whether I’d be willing to teach CoachArt kids and waive the fee. I had never heard of a program like that. Leah was passionate and professional, and I couldn’t say no. My mom’s a cancer survivor, so chronic illness means something personal to me. So I started volunteering my services to CoachArt in 2003.
CoachArt: What has it been like teaching CoachArt kids?
Linda: I love the CoachArt students I’ve had. We inspire each other. I treat them like I treat every other student, and they work hard. The only thing that’s different is that sometimes my CoachArt students need to reschedule a class because they’re recovering from a treatment or they just don’t feel right, and I accommodate that. And I consider myself to be part of their healing, because art and music are very healing. I see them building their confidence. I know they look forward to our lessons. And sometimes we get opportunities to display their work in art shows, such as at a local coffee house. That’s a great boost, and some of the kids even get offers to buy their work.
One of the teenagers I taught never really missed a class, regardless of whatever treatments she was going through. When she started getting lessons with me she was very quiet, and we never discussed her illness. But she worked hard and became quite a good artist. She liked to illustrate horses, and she had her artwork in several art shows we did, and she just beamed. It was magical.
CoachArt: What else do you do with your time?
Linda: I’m married to a musician, composer, and teacher, and we’ve been producing a line of piano books that teachers can use or that people can use to teach themselves. I have also been playing piano in concert in addition to my teaching. Right now my favorite artist is Billy Childs, a jazz pianist. I loved visiting Arcadia Contemporary, a gallery in Pasadena, which has some of the best young artists doing contemporary realism. Since their move back to New York, I frequent their online gallery — it’s not to be missed. And I love riding my bike to a farmer’s market in Studio City.
We’re grateful to CoachArt program partner Linda Wehrli of Pastimes for a Lifetime for sharing her experience! Find out more about Pastimes for a Lifetime at www.pastimesinc.com.
WAYS TO HELP
Are you interested in becoming a CoachArt partner? You have several options — find out more here. Do you have an artistic or athletic skill to share virtually with a child impacted by chronic illness? Become a CoachArt Volunteer.
Learn other ways you can get involved with CoachArt to help kids impacted by chronic illness.