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Artistic impact: PSH art students create portraits for children in other countries

Published on Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021

four students (and art teacher paige duvall) hold up ongoing portraits

BCSD provided photo / Ashna Patel, Julia Wood, Izzy Corbit, art teacher Paige Duvall, and Nicholas Moore. 

Philip Simmons High art students are utilizing their artistic skills to make a direct impact on young children living in group homes around the world.

Last summer art teacher Paige Duvall came across an organization called The Memory Project, a nonprofit that pairs American Advanced Art students with children in group homes and foster homes around the world. Through The Memory Project, art students are tasked with drawing the children’s portraits.

Duvall thought it would be a good fit for her art students.

“This was a way for our art department to really give back in a charitable but very specific artistic way,” she said.

It costs $15 to sponsor a child, so Duvall asked the school’s PTSA if they could raise enough money to sponsor 10 children. The PTSA upped its game and raised enough for 15 children. Seven of the children they are drawing are in Cameroon, and the other eight are in India.

Duvall picked a group of her advanced art students to participate in making these portraits: 12th-graders Semaj Mack and Maya Gerding; 11th-graders Julia Wood, Nina Jansen, Charlotte Francis, Mackenzie Brueder, Nicholas Moore and Savanah Hill; 10th-graders Micaela Hughes, Izzy Corbit and Ashna Patel; and ninth-grader Taylor Boney.

Some of the students have already gotten started on the portraits.

ashna patel working on portrait

BCSD provided photo

“They were really excited about it,” Duvall said, adding that The Memory Project’s founder, Ben Schumaker, sent them videos and details of where the children live in their countries and possible reasons why they now reside in group homes – and there’s many reasons from civil war to famine. “Providing these children with portraits was a wonderful way to make them feel special but also brighten up there space in the…(place) that they’re in.”

Eleventh-grader Julia Wood said she hopes that the children love what they receive and will be able to remember a time when someone from another part of the world was thinking about them.

“I just thought it was really special,” she said.

The students created the portraits in color pencil (and a little bit of marker in some of them). They even took an extra step in researching popular African and Indian fabric designs in order to create the backgrounds of the portraits.

Tenth-grader Izzy Corbit said the goal is for the children to really be able to see themselves in the portraits.

“That’s a treasurable moment for any kid to have,” she said.

With the children living in other countries, 10th-grader Ashna Patel said it was interesting to see the emotions they portrayed in their original photos, and that it was fun to bring that emotion to life on paper.

“You look at the picture for so long that you start to understand what they’re feeling,” she said.

Duvall and her students noticed that the little girls in Cameroon have shaved heads in order to stave off lice, and therefore the only thing that really distinguishes them from the boys is their stud earrings. They noticed one specific little girl only wore one earring and later learned her other earring was stolen. Duvall got in touch with Schumaker and asked if the school could send stud earrings to the little girls in this particular home.

“Through the PTSA we could only afford to do the 15 portraits, but there are over 50 little girls in that (group home),” Duvall said.

With that in mind, Duvall got faculty and staff at Philip Simmons High involved in gathering brand-new hypoallergenic stud earrings to send to the girls in the home, and so far the school has collected more than 50 pairs of earrings (and counting).

The earrings, as well as the portraits, will be sent to The Memory Project’s headquarters in Wisconsin in March, and from there the organization will ship the items to Cameroon and India.

Duvall said she really wanted her students to see how something that they do – artistically or otherwise – can make a direct impact on someone else. Later this year the students will be able to see photos of the children receiving their portraits.

“They will be able to see what they did and how actively giving your time – giving your talent – to charity can be so much rewarding than just handing over a check,” she said.

izzy corbit   julia wood

BCSD provided photos

Monica Kreber