With practiced moves, brushes dance across canvas and splashes of color come to life; faces emerge. Some sport impish grins and bright eyes that hint at mischief. Others are more restrained, slightly shy and uncertain. These are the faces of the children of Vietnam, and John Tyler Community College art students have spent the semester painstakingly recreating their images using only the photographs provided to them. This is not just a class project; it is a labor of love because each portrait is a gift for a child who has few, if any, possessions. The portraits, being painted by students in Professor Colin Ferguson’s Painting III and Painting IV classes, are part of the Memory Project, an initiative that gives children from all over the world, who have been abandoned, orphaned, abused or neglected, a personal keepsake. This is the seventh time Ferguson’s upper-level painting students have participated in the project. For the project, Ferguson and his 13 students were each given a photograph, and from that image, each artist created a portrait. The completed artwork will be sent to the child as a gift.
In past semesters, Ferguson and his students have painted portraits of orphans from Afghanistan, Peru, Uganda, Myanmar, Haiti and Ecuador. Students involved in the project get a rigorous lesson on portraiture painting, but as Ferguson points out, the lesson goes far beyond technique and grades. “This assignment continues to be one of the most significant to the students and the quality of the work testifies to this,” says Ferguson. “Ben Schumaker, who created The Memory Project, told me the portraits from John Tyler are consistently among the best he receives each year. We recently received photos of the children from Afghanistan holding the paintings we did. Seeing these orphans with their portraits make it so worthwhile for these students. They know their art has truly made an impact.”
The Memory Project portraits were on display in Eliades Hall at John Tyler Community College’s Midlothian Campus through December 13, 2012. The artwork will be sent to The Memory Project for delivery to the children in Vietnam. Often, photographs of the children holding their portraits are sent to Ferguson and his students as a way to say thank you. The College’s participation in this project is supported by the John Tyler Community College Foundation. Photographs of the portraits may be found on the College’s Flickr page at www.flickr.com/johntylercc. For more information about The Memory Project, visit www.thememoryproject.org.