Inspiring youth through his art
When Maryland artist Normon Greene was a child in southwestern Virginia, he watched his mother sketch and vowed to be just like her one day.
“I was inspired by her drawings, so I started drawing,” the 69-year-old painter and sculptor said. “Then she gave me clay, and I thought, ‘Wow, I can draw three-dimensionally!’”
Now Greene, a retired youth counselor and artist whose works are displayed throughout the D.C. metro area, is the one inspiring a younger generation.
His work is being exhibited in the Sandy Spring Museum from May 2 through July 28. At the same time, the museum will present artwork done by school students from kindergarten to eighth grade at St. John’s Episcopal School in Olney, Md.
As the museum prepared for both exhibits, its executive director “suggested the idea of having students examine [Greene’s] art work and explore his art style,” said St. John’s visual arts teacher Maggie Lewis.
Lewis loved the idea. She showed Greene’s work to her students, and they created family portraits in Greene’s style of bold colors and simple shapes. Then she sent her students’ work to Greene.
“I was so impressed, I asked if I could go to the class and introduce myself,” Greene said.
Lewis arranged a March visit to her second-grade classroom. The students peppered Greene with questions: How long did it take to complete his artwork? What materials did he use?
“I was really taken by how every one of them got into it,” he said. “As we get older, we don’t see young people as often. It’s really important that we learn from each other.”
Wide open spaces for art
Greene has been creating art — first on the side, now full-time — for more than 40 years. You may have seen some of his work around town or even along major highways out West. Through a connection with an artist friend, Steven Weitzman, he has crafted reliefs for highways and bridges in Oklahoma and Arizona.
Today, several of his public sculptures are on display in Maryland and D.C. His 2008 stone sculpture “Five in the Wind” stands beside the Potomac River in National Harbor, and his bronze “Roscoe” statue, cast in 2000, depicts a beloved rooster in Takoma Park, Md. Other statues and reliefs are displayed in Wheaton and Scotland, Md.
From his studio in Brentwood, Md., Greene even carved a stone sculpture in 2015 for the city of Charleston, S.C. All told, he has displayed his work in more than 90 venues, including galleries, libraries, community centers and public parks.
Tai chi is another passion
Greene grew up in Lynchburg, Va., where he first glimpsed someone in a local park practicing tai chi, an ancient Chinese martial art.
During an eight-year career in the U.S. Navy, Greene was stationed in San Francisco when he again spotted a tai chi practitioner in a park, moving slowly through a series of poses. Intrigued, he began studying the exercise and art form.
Today he teaches 10 tai chi classes per week, mostly to older adults, including those at the Riderwood retirement community in Silver Spring, Md.
“Everyone wants to learn tai chi, especially seniors,” Greene said. In his classes, students move together in slow-motion, synchronized poses known as forms.
He calls it a bonding experience. “They’re enjoying the flow of each other. When that happens, oh my goodness, it’s a good feeling.”
A teambuilder then and now
Greene graduated from the University of Maryland, majoring in sociology and minoring in studio art. For most of his career, he worked as a youth counselor and outdoor adventure specialist at the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington.
Working with disadvantaged kids, he organized team-building experiences “to bond together” through rock climbing, caving, river rafting, and group games “where everybody has to win together,” he said. “I use the same teambuilding skills to teach tai chi.”
After 21 years at the YMCA, Greene retired and started his own business in Brentwood, Ra Studio, as a space to create art and teach classes.
Several local agencies have commissioned his work over the years, including Montgomery County Arts and Humanities Council, the D.C. Commission on the Arts, and the Maryland State Art Council. Greene also founded a group called the Takoma Park Artists’ Guild, which hosts weekly exhibits in that city.
Greene plans to start teaching art classes, including some targeted to older adults, later this year. He said he enjoys teaching — and learning from — those older than he. One of his tai chi students is 104 years old.
“I teach seniors all the time, and I’m just awed by their history and their skills,” he said.
The power of color
Through Greene’s tai chi practice and his art, he hopes to unite people. In the Navy, Greene worked as an equal opportunity specialist, hosting workshops on race.
“Some of the things that came up [in those workshops] was that the term ‘white’ or the term ‘black’ really wasn’t about the real shade of our skin. We’re all the same color, just different shades.”
Greene explored this multicultural theme in his art, and he has been working for three years on the series that will be exhibited at the Sandy Spring Museum on May 2.
He named it “Colored Folks: We Come in Every Shade” because he “wanted to do more to get people to talk about [skin color] in a non-negative way,” he said.
“The term ‘colored folks’ doesn’t mean just black people; it means white people, brown people — it includes all of us because that’s who we are.”
Witnessing the enthusiasm and openness of the St. John’s Episcopal School students gave him hope, Greene said.
“The conversation [about race] has been coming up more, and it comes up in such a positive way — I think we’re all learning from it. I’m really happy that young people are noticing it. That’s our future.”
Greene’s exhibit, “Colored Folks: We Come in Every Shade,” and St. John’s Episcopal School exhibit, “Our Life in Art,” will be on display at the Sandy Spring Museum, located at 17901 Bentley Rd, Sandy Spring, MD, through July 28.
The museum is open Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free.
For more information, visit sandyspringmuseum.org or call (301) 774-0022.