Local artist explores awareness, creativity in workshops

Maria Navarro, local artist and vice president of 1078 Gallery's board of directors, shows off her current journal full of drawings, observations and even small pieces of nature. Navarro hosts an exploratory workshop once a week Thursday afternoon at the gallery. Photo credit: Emma Wood-Wright

Chico State students from Linda Rogers’ English 130 class sit in a big circle on 1078 Gallery’s floor. They’re here on a Thursday afternoon in late October to participate in Maria Navarro’s intimate weekly workshop.

“It’s all about process,” Navarro said, as she began instructing the warm-up.

She tells the participants to raise their arms above their heads and take a big breath. Next, in her thick Colombian accent, she asks them to pound on their chests.

“Wake up the body,” she commands.

This warm-up is something Navarro learned at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, where she studied the Alexander Technique.

“It’s the connection between creativity and awareness,” Navarro said.

Her workshops don’t necessarily have a theme, but offer exploration of the mind and body, aiming to get participants more in touch with their creativity, awareness and self-development.

Past workshops have included acting, drawing, writing, working with clay and collective artworks. They are often inspired by current gallery exhibits.

Originally from Colombia, Navarro moved to Palo Alto in the late ’70s, where her soon-to-be husband was a professor at Stanford University. She abandoned a career in law, moved to a foreign country and tackled a new language.

“I felt like I was a child again with all the changes in my life,” she said.

Navarro began taking dance classes and developed an interest in the human body and awareness. That’s when she started commuting to San Francisco to study at the American Conservatory Theater.

Once she graduated in 1983, she began teaching private classes from her in-home studio in San Francisco, she said. She taught the Alexander Technique to many performers, including actors, dancers and musicians.

Now, she incorporates this technique in her classes at 1078 Gallery, where she became the vice president of the board of directors in 2005 and started hosting her workshops on Sept. 14, 2006.

About a year later, she began collaborating with Kathleen McPartland, who taught creative writing at Chico State.

“She came to my first workshop,” Navarro said. “We have so much fun and laugh so much together.”

Navarro has been journaling since she was 11 years old, so she and McPartland also bring an aspect of creative writing to the workshops.

On Oct. 23, Navarro’s class inspiration was Eukang Koh’s exhibit, “Humanity Bites,” featuring her colorful, sewn creatures.

Navarro put on some music and instructed the class to walk around and choose one of Koh’s creatures to sketch.

“Think of this as your muse,” she said. “It has messages for you.”

She told the class to name the creature and write down what it was saying to them.

“I have to dare to be silly and make mistakes,” Navarro said. “Creativity depends so much on courage.”

One student said his creature told him to find a soul mate and live life to the fullest.

Another student described his creature as a fish with legs named Stan.

Navarro’s workshops are free and open to the public, but donations to the gallery are appreciated.

“Once a week, I just look forward to seeing what comes out in a way of art and inspiration,” Navarro said. “(People should) drop in and find out what’s in the world.”

Emma Wood-Wright can be reached at [email protected] or @emmawoodwright on Twitter.