The museum had the privilege of working with Memory Project, a global nonprofit organization that invites art teachers and their students to create portraits of children facing substantial challenges around the world. Most of the children live in orphanages and have been victims of war, loss of parents, and poverty. Memory Project receives photos of the children from the facilities that care for them, and they make large color prints of them to send to participating art teachers. After studying the photos, the teachers and their students make portraits of the children, which Memory Project hand delivers to the subjects when their portraits are finished.
Back in March, Staten Island Academy art teachers Kristi Pfister and Catherine Dunning told me they were creating portraits of children living in the Ukraine, and wanted to make them on our press. I was intrigued, but it wasn’t until I saw the photos that I understood what makes this project so special--the eyes of the children looked back at me. Among them was a little girl with a blue crocheted hat, a little boy with spaces in his teeth, another boy with big eyes looking out from under a newsboy cap, and a pretty girl approaching her teens. All I could do was imagine what these children have seen in their young lives. I saw sadness mixed with the playfulness of childhood, and it touched me. Kristi, Catherine, and I agreed that we wanted to embrace these children. Then I realized the point of the program is to instill awareness and kindness in the students creating the portraits. Through this experience, they connect with children in another part of the world, and see the faces behind the stories they hear about on the news.
I witnessed that caring firsthand. I watched the students compare the photos with the portraits, carefully striving to capture the essence of the child. Kristi and Catherine explained how to mix the right shades of yellow ochre, magenta, and leaf green to get the right skin tone, so that the children’s faces would look natural and not like masks. There was excitement as we cranked each portrait through the press.
Memory Project made a video of the Ukrainian children as they were presented with the portraits. It was a moving experience we all watched together, and it became apparent why it is called a memory project. The Ukranian children have a tangible remembrance of their youth, and the art students will always remember the person living 4,800 miles away whose portrait became their common bond. View the video by clicking the button below.