Nestled behind the Agassiz Baldwin Community center on Sacramento Street in Cambridge sits a building that might have jumped from the pages of a children's fairy tale. Rainbow hues splash the walls and gazebo-like play structure. Benches and tables are themselves figures of abstract art.
The outside of the Maud Morgan Arts center may attract people of all ages with its whimsy and charm, but inside, there are serious studios and equipment for ceramics, printmaking, drawing and painting, sculpture, and more.
Since its opening, in October 2010, Maud Morgan Arts has built a reputation as a place for all ages to explore and create. The center was named for the local artist Maud Morgan, who lived from 1903 to 1999, and aims to follow in her eccentric footsteps, according to director Catherine Kernan.
"Maud Morgan was a neighborhood artist who was an inspiration to a lot of younger artists," she said. "She was local but her reputation was much bigger and this was really to honor her creative spirit."
To that end, the center offers courses throughout the year ranging from clay to sewing and woodworking to puppet-making, with opportunities for each age group to learn from a faculty of art professionals. Beginning students and experienced artists alike can gain experience in a variety of media.
The Chandler Gallery, located in the Agassiz Baldwin building, is also free and open to the public to visit, offering a chance to see what Maud Morgan Arts is all about. Exhibits change about eight times a year, ranging from well-known professionals to new artists. This May and June will be dedicated to children's artwork from the various classes.
This month, the center is offering April vacation classes geared toward middle school students.
Boriana Kantcheva, an instructor in printmaking, has designed a class with sewing instructor Mary Kenny called "Print Your Fabric, Sew Your Project."
"The idea is that kids can create their own fabrics," said Kantcheva. "They print their own fabrics and can sew whatever out of [them] like skirts, shirts, aprons, and pillowcases, depending on the age."
"Creative Clay" and "Drawing Out Poetry" are two other courses offered during this session. Comparable courses are also offered year-round as well as classes in mediums such as woodworking and puppet-making.
Kernan says she tries to offer opportunities that aspiring artists and working professionals cannot find elsewhere. Last February, Maud Morgan ran a middle school class called Architecture 1, where students researched, planned, and eventually built a play structure that now sits outside the center.
"That's the kind of thing I really like to do: something you couldn't get anywhere else," Kernan said.
Class sizes remain small, averaging around 8 to 10 students, allowing individual instruction and attention. Similar ages are typically grouped together but some classes are open to all ages.
Emily Somma, head of the preschool open studio program, says she has participants as young as 14 months old, promoting the center's philosophy of creative learning from the start.
"I try to adapt, working in themes and having projects that can apply to all ages," she said. "When they're that young, half of them don't do the activity but it's OK because they are learning and exploring an activity that they might not have at home."
Courses can cost up to $285, depending on the type and materials required for the class. However, scholarships are available, Kernan says, and are easy to apply for. She also said this is one of many ways they hope to reach outside of the local community.
"Outreach has been a challenge but that's something we're trying to do," said Kernan. "We want to grow beyond the neighborhood because this is an arts center for all of Boston."
Kernan says she also works with local community organizations and artistic groups, such as the Cambridge Art Association, to offer joint workshops for members.
"If I can cross-pollinate, I want to do that," she said. "I plant the seed, see what develops, and I try to follow up if it seems to have energy and traction."
While most classes are organized by age groups, Kernan says she also hopes to offer more classes in which younger and older generations can interact.
"It would be great to have younger artists see older artists and be inspired and older artists see younger artists and be inspired," she said.
"The vision is to have one place that is just a beehive of activity," said Kernan. "We want people to come here and really feel like the place is theirs. They don't have to come here and watch out for the rules."
Katy Rushlau can be reached at