Ashley Ernest and her husband, Matthew Werkmeister, used to daydream about hitting the road to see the country. So they purchased a 31-foot camper and did just that – but after about six months in their house on wheels with their very social toddler, they decided van life wasn’t as glamorous as it seemed, but it did lead to a new dream. In March 2023, the couple moved back to Rhode Island – where they now live in Barrington – and started Creative Wanderings Art Center, which they operate from the van they once called home.
The mobile creative space is filled with art supplies, offering everything a young would-be artist needs to start making. “We bring art programs to libraries, schools, and organizations like Girl Scouts,” Ernest explains, who is also a regular fixture at local birthday parties and even adult gatherings. “When the weather is nice, we set up an awning and walk people through a creative project,” she says. But Creative Wanderings doesn’t put the brakes on during the winter – they simply set up tables and chairs and move their projects indoors. “I like to encourage people to have fun and be creative when they’re stuck inside during the cold weather.”
Ernest is an educator and artist herself, so she understands not only how to break projects into segments that beginners can easily duplicate, but also how important the creative process is. “I really care about making sure the people I’m working with are having fun. Creating something feels good. It’s good for the soul.”
In its first few months in business, Creative Wanderings has developed some go-to projects that have proven popular with young creatives. The feelings rock, for example, encourages kids to decorate a rock with a word that resonates with them. Kids can also shape clay into a favorite food or make a butterfly pin from cardstock. One of Ernest’s favorites is the mini stuffie, which teaches kids rudimentary sewing skills. “For birthday parties, we tailor the project to the party theme,” says Ernest, describing the many characters, like cats, turtles, and unicorns, she helps kids create.
But despite all her careful preparation, the teaching moments that stand out the most in Ernest’s mind are those that happen spontaneously – the ones when kids step naturally into leadership roles or experience teamwork outside the formality of a classroom setting. She loves nothing more than the unconstrained joy that often appears. “I remember a 10-year-old’s birthday party,” Ernest says. “She had 12 of her friends over and they had Taylor Swift playing in the background. They were singing and making their stuffies. It was like she was hosting a sewing circle with her girlfriends!”
In addition to continuing to book private parties throughout the winter, Creative Wanderings Art Center is working with East Bay schools, libraries, PTAs, and like-minded organizations to get community members’ creativity flowing. To book a party or purchase a gift certificate, visit CreativeWanderingsArt.com
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