Every week, artists gather at a Riverdale Park studio to hone their craft. Sometimes they say it feels as though their mentor/studio founder Gerald King, who died in November 2012, is still there, looking over their work and offering advice and encouragement.
Bruce Campbell of Silver Spring said King, 76, a former Prince George’s Community College professor known for his realistic style of painting, asked his family to pass on a message to Campbell upon his death.
“He wanted me to continue the tradition,” said Campbell, 62.
In the nearly two years that followed, Campbell said he has honored that request as director of King’s Atelier Royal studio adjacent to the house where the artist lived, scheduling models every week, keeping track of attendees and maintaining the studio. “Atelier” is a word derived from French, meaning “artist’s studio,” and “Royal” was the first name of King’s father.
King, who began the drawing and painting group almost 30 years ago, believed that artists learn best by copying the works of master painters, Campbell said. As a member of the National Gallery of Art’s copyist program, which allows permit-holding artists to set up art supplies in the museum and make replicas of originals, King copied paintings by artists such as Rembrandt van Rijn, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and many others in addition to creating his own works.
Campbell, who works as a program analyst and paints in his spare time, has continued the copyist tradition as well. Currently he is copying a painting titled “The Alba Madonna,” by Renaissance artist Rafael.
“This is his life,” Campbell said, looking around the studio filled with King’s landscapes, portraits and paintings of reclining nudes, where six artists gathered on June 26. “This is home away from home for a lot of people.”
The artists — among them retirees, professional painters and people who pursue art as hobby — said King’s studio is an escape from the everyday.
“I get lost in time,” said Faith Leahy-Thielke, 70, of Bowie, who has been drawing at Atelier Royal for the past 15 years. “Time literally melts.”
The artists said King’s studio is a comfortable space where everyone feels welcome and no conversation topic is off limits. On June 26 the conversation covered subjects such as immigration policy to raising pet chickens to preparing fried green tomatoes.
“I think this is a place where we all feel comfortable even though our politics differ,” said Dennis Serrette, 74, of Oxon Hill. Serrette, who joined the drawing and painting group after King’s death, said he feels he knows the painter just from spending time in the studio. “You can’t help but learn about him,” he said.
Dean Kalomas, 57, of Bowie said King had a way of making those around him feel welcome.
“He was a really good guy,” said Kalomas, a painter and decorator. “If you liked to talk and if you liked to paint, he liked you.”
In the back of the studio, Campbell said he has kept King’s brushes and palette just as the artist left them the last time he painted. Directly above, King looks out at the room from a self-portrait.
“Gerald is still here in spirit,” Campbell said. “If you look at that self-portrait, it follows you.”