By MATTHEW KENWRIGHT

mkenwright@dailynews.net

Northwest Kansas' arts culture was showcased this weekend for members of a national art group.

Forty artists belonging to the Society of Layerists in Multi-Media gathered in Hays for their annual conference. It featured visits to Lucas for the Garden of Eden and Bowl Plaza, the Basilica of St. Fidelis in Victoria and Hays' art studios. The artists also attended a workshop in Hays at Pottery Works.

Cal Mahin, a retired Hays art professor, led a lesson about collages. Participants gathered assorted items during their studio visits and combined them with paint, crayons, pastels and paper cutouts. The artists' final pieces included a range of color schemes from a blur of autumn colors to vibrant hues and creations incorporating map shreds and swatches.

Mahin taught attendees different methods such as the wet-on-wet technique. The process coats collage materials in glue on both sides to allow different arrangements.

Jaleh A. Etemad, the president of SLMM and a San Francisco resident, said the arts community in northwest Kansas is "pure" because creators have more freedom.

"They do the art that they really love doing," she said. "Not many city folks can do it. That is the difference."

The genuine nature of Lucas' grassroots art community impressed her. Etemad also was surprised the rural region offered a church of the cathedral's caliber.

Lynn C. Mikami, SLMM's vice president from Los Angeles, said local artists are producing quality work without the benefit of a working within a large group.

"There's like a whole arts scene in L.A. People are all intermingled," Mikami said. "People seem to be here working off in their own little studios and producing wonderful stuff without having to be in that big urban arts scene."

Kathleen Kuchar, conference director and former FHSU professor, said attendees told her they did not realize the area's culture would be so rich.

"I feel proud of our community, and we wanted to share that," she said.

The successful conference demonstrates Hays is not as isolated as some might think, she said.

Mahin said local artists can compete with others in large cities.

"I don't think we have to take a backseat to anyone," he said.

Another workshop at Fort Hays State University demonstrated how to carve designs into molds and cast them with aluminum. The class also hosted a picnic for the artists, with hamburgers and hotdogs.