It's not uncommon for teachers who work together for years to become like family. You can tell teachers have become especially close when they look for opportunities outside of school to enjoy one another's company and fellowship.
A group of teachers at Asbury Elementary have found a unique way to do just that. On the last Sunday of every month, they get together to paint.
They converge on Paula Maddox's Art Underground studio in the greater Horton area to paint seasonal masterpieces.
They've painted Kris Kringle, ringing out the old year, the Easter Bunny, fall leaves and much, much more. They've been holding the monthly painting sessions for about 5 years now. In the beginning, Paula came to them and they did the sessions at school.
Then Paula set up her studio and the group started going to her.
The group usually has 8 to 12 teachers who paint. There were 4 teachers painting a fall scene of pumpkins when we caught up with them last Sunday.
"It's just a great way to relax and to enjoy seeing each other outside of school," said Cindy Walton, the leader of the happy band of artists.
The ladies had classic rock on the radio and were jamming while working on their art.
Make no mistake about it. The ladies may be relaxing and enjoying themselves, but they're pretty good artists too.
There are no mistakes in Paula's classes, just "happy little accidents" as the late great artist Bob Ross said. If someone gets a bit off kilter, Paula can help them straighten things up.
After years of painting, some of the Asbury crew are good enough to forge on ahead on their own if they need to speed things up a bit. Mary Waterhouse had a grandbaby coming for a visit on the afternoon we were there. While everyone else was still working on the pumpkins, she'd gone on ahead with the sunflower to finish up her painting because she was in a time crunch.
The other teachers who were painting were Amber Bowling and Heather Spradlin. Mrs. Spradlin is Ms. Waterhouse's daughter.
The art teacher, Paula Maddox, works in schools herself. She is a bus driver in the Albertville School System.
"She's like family too now," Mrs. Bowling said.
"We all love each other," Ms. Waterhouse said.
These are mainly seasonal paintings, many depicting holidays. So after painting them for a few years, you develop quite a collection. What do you do with them?
"Mine are put up, but I get them out and decorate with them according to the season," Mrs. Bowling said.
"We get to talk about something besides school," Ms. Walton said of the monthly sessions.
Paula has been involved in art for years. Before she set up her studio, she packed all her art stuff in a Prius to travel and hold "painting parties." She still does some of that, but the standard party today takes place at her basement studio.
She paints the piece the class will be doing ahead of time to serve as a guide, then often paints it again as the actual paint party progresses.
"I know I have to be able to paint it in 45 minutes if I want a group to be able to paint it in 3 hours," she said.
Sometimes, her second try at the piece comes out better than the first. She was more pleased with her second pumpkin painting than the first.
Art pieces from past classes cover the walls of the studio. The Asbury group can look around and say, "We did this one, and that one, and this one."
The teachers often pick up ideas they transfer to their own classes later. First grade did leaf art after last month's fall leaves session with Paula.
"It was wonderful," Ms. Waterhouse said. "Their art hung in the halls and we essentially had an art show."
Like snowflakes, no two pieces of art are alike, even if the students are painting the same image from the same model. And that might be part of the beauty of participating in one of the sessions.
The Asbury teachers let this old reporter participate in last Sunday's class. The reporter's was the worst looking piece in the bunch but Mrs. Spradlin said, "I like it. It looks like it could illustrate a poem, maybe something from Edgar Allen Poe." Elementary teachers sure know how to build up struggling students with kindness.
Ms. Walton - an Auburn fan - said her favorite piece they'd ever done depicted the eye of a tiger.
It is easy to make new friends and forget about everything for a few hours when you're painting.
"I just love it," Paula said. "I guess I've made about 2,500 new friends all over Marshall County through this. It's just something I'd always wanted to do."
If you're interested in setting up your own painting group, you can visit Art Underground Paint Partys on Facebook. The studio is at 2030 Douglas-Hyatt Road, Horton. The cost is $35 per person.