The Art of Giving

A brush delicately sweeps the canvas. Colors blend, shadow and light make peace, and forms come into focus.  A critical eye surveys the work. A smiling face looks back.  Another touch of paint here, an adjustment there, and the portrait nears completion. Looking around the art studio at John Tyler Community College similar scenes unfold as student artists, poised behind their easels, put the finishing touches on a special assignment – portraits for The Memory Project. The Memory Project is an initiative that gives children who have been abandoned, orphaned, abused or neglected a personal keepsake. This is the fifth year in a row Professor Colin Ferguson’s upper-level painting students have participated in the project. Ferguson and his 13 students were each given a photograph of a child from which he or she creates a portrait. The completed artwork is then sent to the child as a gift.

This year’s portraits feature children from Peru. In previous years, Ferguson and his students have painted portraits of orphans from Uganda, Myanmar, Haiti and Ecuador. “We take for granted our family photo album,” says Ferguson. “These children don’t have that, but now, they’ll have a painting of themselves. They are often moved to learn that someone took the time to do this beautiful portrait for them.” In addition to providing students with an international connection, Ferguson said the project offers his students artistic challenges. “In a purely academic sense, it’s given my students a wide variety of people and ethnicities to paint. They’re getting the opportunity to paint people from other countries.”

Ferguson’s students, many of whom have participated in past Memory Project assignments, say they are thrilled to be creating these portraits. “I want to use my art in a way that helps society,” says Cindy Duhon. “We’ve been given this great gift, and it’s nice to use it this way.” Mary Auerbach agrees. “It’s amazing to see them holding something you’ve had in your hands. It’s a connection. It’s special.” As they worked on their portraits, Ferguson and his students discussed their experiences with The Memory Project. Watch their video at

The Memory Project portraits are on display outside room A220 on the second floor of the Academic Building at John Tyler Community College’s Midlothian Campus through May 4, 2011. The artwork will then be sent to The Memory Project for delivery to the children in Peru. 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. For more information about The Memory Project, visit 


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