Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Memory Project: Creating Portraits of Kindness

I love that I love my job! This week has been especially meaningful; I love knowing that I’ve helped contribute to something greater than myself or even my students - Let me explain! (how many times can I say 'love' in one paragraph...Can you sense my enthusiasm?!)

Earlier in the semester, one of my design classes set a charity art project in motion. We were discussing the upcoming Fine Arts Festival (which, by the way, was a big hit!) and a student mentioned how at his sister’s school, they did a fundraiser at their art show to raise money for supplies, and inquired if we could do something similar.  I pointed out that as a private school, we already have a budget for supplies. I loved his response, “But, Ms. Palmer, couldn't we raise money for a charity instead? Like…an art charity?”

Yes, yes we can. I mean, how could you not love these kids?! After some research, I stumbled upon an organization called The Memory Project. You can watch this video to see the project in action!

In a nutshell, “The Memory Project invites art teachers and their students to create and donate portraits to youth around the world who have faced substantial challenges, such as neglect, abuse, loss of parents, violence, and extreme poverty.

These portraits help the children feel valued and important, to know that many people care about their well being, and to act as meaningful pieces of personal history in the future.  For the art students, this is an opportunity to creatively practice kindness and global awareness.”

27 of my students volunteered to participate in this project, and they spent several weeks working diligently to create vector portraits of 27 high school students in Bolivia. I've included just a few in this post.


Here are some of the challenges that these children in Bolivia face: “It is first important to know that Bolivia is the financially poorest country in South America. Such poverty leads to regrettable trends for many women and children, such as inadequate nutrition, limited healthcare, substance abuse, and domestic violence. Bolivia’s weak economy also creates a vacuum for narcotics, as many people can make far more money through the drug trade than they can through traditional employment.

These children all live in a particularly challenged area on the outskirts of a city, where many families live in one room homes with dirt floors and walls of sheet metal.”


It was inspiring to see how much my students cared about this project. Sometimes when students become frustrated, they fall into an attitude of “I just want to be done” or “this project is too difficult.” But these kids were amazingly dedicated. Despite the fact that this was the first time for all of them using Adobe Illustrator, or even digital art of any kind, they were motivated to keep at it until they had created portraits that the Bolivian students would love and cherish. They even wrote letters in Spanish (with the help of our Spanish teachers!) introducing themselves and explaining their artistic choices to make it even more personal. One student said, "The Memory Project helped me to fully appreciate just how powerful art can be. It's so crazy and inspiring to think that someone thousands of miles away has benefitted from my art project!"


This week, we received a video showing the delivery of the portraits. Overall, portraits were created for over 800 children in Bolivia, with the help of about 160 schools in the U.S., including Archmere Academy. In addition to the portraits, the participating schools as a group managed to raise over $4,000, which will help provide much needed services to these schools in Bolivia. I feel so proud that my students were part of this effort. 

I can’t imagine a better example of how we can use art to change lives and create powerful, social change. It’s a good day to be an art teacher!!


Monday, April 24, 2017

In a Framing Frenzy!

I haven’t written in about a year – and that’s because things have been busy! I am now officially a full-time art educator at Archmere Academy, and life couldn’t get any better!

In addition to working full-time, I have also been preparing for my first solo exhibition in the area, featuring a combination of my dictionary drawings (see below!), portraits, and landscapes. I am so grateful to my amazing co-worker, Terry Newitt, who suggested that I contact Darlington Arts Center. The center is wonderful, and currently has a beautiful high school art exhibit on display. Definitely worth a look!

It has certainly been a learning experience for me as I prepare for the opening on June 15. I realize it’s still quite a ways off, but I decided to do the bulk of the framing myself, which has been an uphill battle. I have almost finished framing 16 of my dictionary drawings! They were a particular challenge for several reasons. I didn’t want to use a standard matting option because I love the edges of the pages – I want everyone to be able to see them, as they add so much visual interest to the pieces. This means I needed to float them, but I didn’t want to damage the pages because of their fragility. With the help of Jerry’s Artarama and Wendy at The Talleyville FrameShoppe and Gallery, I finally came up with a solution.

I ended up using a self-adhesive hinging tissue on the back four corners, mounted to black mat board, and a cream frame around the drawing. I was concerned about my dubious ability to center the artwork correctly, so I added strips of foam core in between the two mats, and then added the artwork after the mat was assembled. Because the frames now have a shadowbox effect, the distance between the edges is constantly shifting anyway, so small discrepancies are less noticeable. That said, I'm sure I centered them all perfectly! It was arduous cutting the 32 mats, but I think the end result is worth it. Even worse than cutting the mat was the deceptively simple task of cleaning the glass. Every time I thought I was finished with a frame, I’d notice a new speck of dust, a smudge or a stray cat hair trying to sneak its way behind the glass. It seems I spent the bulk of my spring break windexing my way through the process!

Over the past few years, I have participated in several group exhibitions, and it definitely helped me come to understand the importance of framing. I won’t lie – I tend to skimp on the framing process and go for as cheap as possible. But it definitely costs the artwork in terms of overall power and presence. I’d previously been using a clip frame for my dictionary drawings, and while functional, they certainly didn’t add anything to the pieces. My new strategy is a decided improvement! The black provides a nice contrast and also ties in with the pen and ink work.

Now that they are just about complete, I can’t wait to see them all up and on display! Next up in the process, reframing my miniature landscapes…go go go!