RANDOLPH, NJ- The Artworks Program had their annual art show on Friday, April 25, but with that joyful celebration also brought a sad goodbye. Program Coordinator and Founder of the Artworks Program, Jean Devlin, retired from the program at the end of April and will be saying her final goodbyes to Randolph.

“I had a lot of experience in working with people with disabilities. When I moved to town I missed teaching and I missed the creative aspect of it and I was just so fortunate to combine both of those loves,” said Devlin.

Devlin is certified in special education and elementary education with a minor in fine arts. She was the director of a fine arts program for developmentally disabled individuals earlier in her career before she had her two children. She stopped working for a while to take care of her children, and moved to Randolph.             

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When her children were born, Devlin knew she wanted to stay home with them. However, she also knew she wanted to do more and began teaching classes in 1995.

The program started in the home of one of Devlin’s friends, offering fine arts classes to children. “We built a studio in her basement and started off really small with just a few classes. After probably a year or two, the waiting list was so big that we couldn’t accommodate all of the people. When you look back it’s really amazing. Obviously, there is a need for things in town other than sports.”

Several years later, Devlin’s friend relocated to Georgia. Devlin decided to continue the program and approached several people in Randolph about utilizing a space to continue these art classes.

John Van Brunt, who was then the director of Parks and Recreation, told Devlin she could have some classes in the Teen Center since it was not used during the week. In 2001, the Artworks Program  began at the old stone house behind the municipal building. The Teen Center and the program shared the space for a year, worked out of the VFW for a couple of years,  and in 2004 the town formally moved them in to use the building solely for Artworks.

“Kudos to the town of Randolph and the officials for allowing this program because I don’t know of another town with an arts program similar to this one,” said Devlin.

What started with a few classes grew into a comprehensive program for children, teens and adults, presently offering 21 classes weekly attended by over 250 students. A variety of art summer camps are held and shows featuring students are held each year.

Devlin teaches kids from ages three and a half up to eighth grade. The program’s growth has allowed there to be classes for high school students and adults. The classes for preschoolers and middle school students have always maintained a curriculum with an instruction objective for the kids to create and have fun.

“I have always felt that it’s really important for Artworks to be a completely noncompetitive environment. I think we’ve done really well enforcing that. There is no one that is better than the other. Everybody is there to learn something about fine arts, about the world, about themselves.”

Artworks had their 13th Annual Art Show that displayed the work of everyone in the program. Students had the option to submit two pieces of work for the show. The show was an open house event for the entire public. Kids come with their parents and invite grandparents, friends, even neighbors and teachers.

“It’s just like a happy celebration for another great year,” said Devlin. “The art show is always a big hit. The kids are all excited. I would say just about everyone in the program comes.”

Devlin’s family threw her a retirement party on the same night. Family and friends that she has worked with for years all had dinner together. Devlin described it as “really nice,” and that she was “going out in style.”

Devlin is proud of what Artworks has become and is confident the program will continue to exemplify the high standards that the students are accustomed to.  In addition to teaching nine classes at Artworks, Devlin was also the program coordinator.

Kelly Varga was selected to be the new program coordinator, and Leah Tomaino will be coordinating the summer camps.  New instructors will be hired to supplement  the talented Artworks staff who will continue their classes.  Cathy Demers, who has been with Artworks since 2004 and assists with Young Artists classes, will also be leaving and she will be greatly missed.

“Kelly has passion for Artworks and what the program is and that’s just what we need. You work hard in the administrative part because it’s not always easy but if you love the center and you love what you do it’s worth every minute of the work that you put in and Kelly definitely has what it’s going to take.”

Devlin will take on new adventures and pursue her love of traveling with her husband. The couple, who has lived in Randolph for 26 years, will be moving to their house on Long Beach Island for the summer.

“We’re ready to move and explore and travel. I will go anywhere. I’ve been to all 50 states. I’d love to revisit some of them and there are so many countries I want to go to. It’s like a new exciting chapter. I’m not really looking at it as retirement as much as just a change.”

She still plans on staying in the area and moving back to Morristown in the Fall to stay close to friends.

“That’s such a big part of my life. It’s never going to leave me,” Devlin said about her Artworks experience. “I’m going to miss the kids. I would absolutely come back and visit. All those years ago I hope to create a place where people could come and learn about art and express themselves creatively without any sort of judgment or competition and have fun in the process of doing that. I believe I succeeded in that and I’m proud of Artworks, the program and the staff that works there. It’s a special place.”

In an email Devlin sent out to participants of the Artworks program, she wrote:

“I would like to extend a very special thank you to all of you because without your support, the Artworks Studio classes would not be as popular as they are today. Many of you have been with the program since its inception and seeing students return year after year after year assures me that we are doing something right! So often, Artworks feels like a big, extended family and I will miss seeing all of our students on a regular basis.  I am confident that I am leaving Artworks in competent hands. It has been an honor and a privilege to work with such devoted, talented and fun people!”