One of my most meaningful teaching experiences this fall was partaking in the Memory Project with my eighth grade painting students. The Memory Project is a charitable nonprofit organization that encourages independent artists and student artists to create portraits for children around the world facing challenging life circumstances. The portraits serve as a way to provide a lasting keepsake for the children and tangible memory of their childhood and show them they are valued. Ms. Teng’s painting classes have participated in this project for a number of years, but this year we decided to partake department wide. Over the course of Trimester I, Ms. McQuillan’s photo classes created beautiful photographic renditions using iPads and Photoshop and eighth graders created traditional, representational portraits in acrylic paint.
Our class eagerly awaited the arrival of children’s photos. The day the package arrived, oohs and aahs filled the classroom as our girls looked at the smiling faces of 14 three- and four-year-olds from Colombia in the photos spread out on the table. I told the students without any other prompting they could select a photo. There was no arguing over the images, no running to be the first to select, just genuine enthusiasm and excitement to get started. Next, as the girls began transferring the photos to the canvas paper, worry set in and students voiced their concerns about failing to meet their own expectations, achieving photo realism, and disappointing the child who would receive the portrait. I tried to quiet those fears by reminding the girls they are in class to learn, that we’d work on them together, and then off we went to mixing paint and trying to record the observed colors, values, and shapes. The girls put in their best effort coming in outside of class time to further work on their paintings and to better match, blend, and render accurate shapes and details. It was rewarding to see the students’ persistence, commitment to quality, and determination to capture a true likeness of the children’s faces. A final highlight was watching the students glue on their own photos on the backs of the portraits and writing to the children to tell them their names, ages, and favorite colors, the same information the children shared with us.
In their mission statement, the Memory Project expresses their aim to help “cultivate global kindness.” It is my hope that my students and the children felt this sentiment and experienced firsthand art as an act of service, building and bridging communities, and as means of spreading joy, hope, and beauty in the world. As we prepare to break for winter vacation, many of us will partake in traditions of giving and receiving. Through this project I am thankful to have participated in this meaningful exchange of connection and care, an exchange that makes another person, community, and country seem a little less distant. It certainly made the darker, shorter days of the fall and approaching winter a lot brighter! Happy Holidays!
*Students will continue to be involved in the Memory Project throughout the school year creating portraits for children in various countries, so look for more portraits around the school. Eighth grade students’ paintings will be on display in the Middle School in January.
*As I was writing this blog, I received a timely email from the Memory Project’s Outreach Director, Rose Franz, with a video enclosed of the children receiving their portraits that our students and 2,000+ other artists and students created for children at feeding and early education centers in Colombia.