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How Baton Rouge’s Pam Westbrook transformed a shed into a knockout art studio

BY CAROL ANNE BLITZER | Special to The Advocate

Local artist Pam Westbrook took a prefabricated shed and created a knockout art studio in her Capital Heights backyard.

It’s a place of her own.

“There are things you can’t do in somebody else’s building,” says Westbrook, who had been working and teaching at a studio with other artists on Choctaw Drive, miles from her home. Westbrook’s classes often involve using a dye vat and a blowtorch, which were not allowed in her old studio.

On the recommendation of her daughter, Courtney Calhoun, Westbrook ordered a 12- by 24-foot Tuff Shed from Home Depot and had it assembled in her small yard.

“I picked out the higher-tier Tuff Shed,” she says. “I ordered French doors on the front and as many windows as I could have because I wanted the light.”

It took two days for a crew to install the shed, which they painted the same eggplant color as the exterior of Westbrook’s home.

Because the interior was completely unfinished, Westbrook hired a carpenter to install bead board on the walls and ceilings.

“I had it wired and plumbed. I had good lighting and central air and heat put in,” says Westbrook, who had an art table built inside the room. “It’s too large to get through the door.”

She connected the studio to her home with a brick courtyard surrounded by a garden area.

Westbrook gives private lessons and teaches all sorts of classes.

“I have taught art in one way or another for years,” she says. “I have a small following of very loyal students.”

The new studio is the perfect size.

“I can teach four students in the studio doing bigger canvases or wall hangings,” she says. “I can teach six doing scarves.”

She often works through social service agencies to teach art therapy, like anger management classes or a series with bereaved children who had recently lost a sibling or parent.

“What I offer in these classes is a safe space to do anything they need anytime they want,” she says.

Westbrook moved to Capital Heights eight years ago. The previous owner removed walls to create an open space between the living room, dining room and kitchen.

“It was the only house I looked at,” Westbrook says. “I like having one major room. I like the open kitchen.”

As a cook and former Paris-trained chef, Westbrook says she had to have a gas stove, so she redid the kitchen with new appliances, countertops and cork floors.

She uses her modern kitchen when she teaches her adult series, “Personal Landscapes.”

Classes for the eight-week session are held once a week at night with a break for dinner, prepared by Westbrook.

“Breaking bread together is a great way to bond,” she says. “The spouses come for the dinner. I post on Facebook what I’m serving.”

Westbrook finds working and teaching in her new studio completely liberating.

“I raised kids. I nursed sick parents. I went through a divorce. It was like a shoe that had been too tight,” she says. “But I took that shoe off.”

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