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New York Academy of Art in TriBeCa uses live animals as models for drawing class

Art student Ragga Thorgrimsdottir drawing a red kangaroo

Art student Ragga Thorgrimsdottir drawing a red kangaroo named Lulu during art class at the New York Academy of Art in TriBeCa on Tuesday, March 29, 2016. Photo Credit: J. Conrad Williams Jr.

At the New York Academy of Art in TriBeCa, it wouldn’t be insulting to say that the live models are a bunch of animals.

That’s because for one of the MFA program’s drawing classes, they are.

Wade Schuman, the director of the graduate school’s painting academy, came up with the idea about four years ago. Ever since, he’s brought in all manner of species to the classroom.

“It’s unique to this institution,” said Schuman, who offers the class each spring semester and tries to bring in different animals each year. “There’s a lot of interest in it.”

The class complements the anatomical training at the grad school, which is a leader in figurative art training.

On a recent Tuesday, students got to work using ink, pencil and oils to capture a squirrel monkey, owl monkey, falcon, Eurasian eagle owl and — a particular highlight — a kangaroo.

“The kangaroo was a triumph,” said Schuman, who worked with Nature Nick’s Animal Adventures, an animal handler from Long Island, to procure that week’s models.

Past classes have also had fish (bought in Chinatown), alligators, pigs, boa constrictors, frogs, turtles, foxes, scorpions and goats — which were prone to gnaw on the students’ sketchpads.

The class goes to the Central Park Zoo and Bronx Zoo, too, but the opportunity to see the animals close up and study them in the classroom is key, Schuman said.

“One of the really important things to me is when you see animals out of the context you normally see them in, it makes them fantastic,” he said. “You see how remarkable they are. It defamiliarizes you.”

The students might also get a horse as a model later in the semester.

“They’re calm and stay still — they’re very good models,” said teaching assistant Angela Gram, who helped found the class.

On Schuman’s bucket list of animals? Emu, zebu, African buffalo and camel.

“Camels are very expensive,” he lamented. “It’s something that’s always a struggle — to find animals we can afford over time.”

Students, for one, are inspired.

“I heard stories about the animals he was bringing in, it’s pretty amazing,” said Richard Barlett, a first-year MFA student who is auditing the class. “Capturing that movement and life is very challenging. It’s great practice.”


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