Classical music and the smell of paint fills the air of the John Tyler Community College art studio, as students painstakingly work on the canvases before them. Some stare with a critical eye, comparing their work to a photograph clipped to their easel. Some carefully apply strokes of paint to soften a line or lighten a shadow. Others consult with their instructor or a fellow student artist, asking for opinions. For these students and their instructor, all projects are important, but this one is special. It has to be just right. That’s because each one is a portrait – a gift for a child who has few, if any, possessions. This is 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 sixth 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, and from that photograph, each artist creates a portrait. The completed artwork is then sent to the child as a gift.
In previous years, Ferguson and his students have painted portraits of orphans from Peru, Uganda, Myanmar, Haiti and Ecuador. This year’s portraits are of children from Afghanistan. Each portrait has its own personality, just like the child it features. It is those shy smiles and impish twinkles that drew each artist to his or her child and led many to forge a connection with their subject. As in past years, the student artists hope their portraits will bring joy to the children who receive them. “I want it to be perfect. I want it to bring a smile to their faces,” said Xenia Castro. “I look at him, and he’s so young, and he’s probably seen so much,” said Eleanor Rose. “I hope he finds peace, and I hope this will make him feel that we hope the best for him.” Celia Fryer, who is participating in the Memory Project for the first time, said. “I hope these bring hope and a bright smile to the children when they receive them.”
“This year’s portraits were particularly poignant to the students and me since these children are living through war,” said Colin Ferguson, professor of art at John Tyler. “We hope these paintings express our wishes of care, concern, and good will to these boys and girls. Every year we select a symbolic background color for the portraits that has a connection to the children’s country. This year we picked green…a color that represents faith, peace and prosperity on the Afghani flag. I can think of no better wish for these young people.”
The Memory Project portraits are on display near room A220 on the second floor of the Academic Building at John Tyler Community College’s Midlothian Campus April 19 – May 24, 2012.
The artwork will then be sent to The Memory Project for delivery to the children in Afghanistan. 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 www.thememoryproject.org.