By Shari Friedel
The 18 art students instructed by Alyson Carlson of Grant at South Platte High School not only learned portrait drawing techniques in a recent classroom project, they had a very important reason to get every detail just right. As part of “The Memory Project,” the students created portraits of individual orphans in India, and sent them as gifts to the children as tangible memories and keepsakes from their childhood.
The project’s founder is missionary Ben Schumacher who began the project in 2004 in his dorm room as a college student. Now, as a young married soon-to-be father, he remains unassuming in his role, coordinating the project from his Sun Prairie, Wis., apartment bedroom which houses a desk, computer and shelves for collecting portraits from art students around the country.
Carlson learned of the project from her brother who lives in Seattle and was taking an adult art class.
Researching the project, she contacted Schumacher and decided to incorporate the idea into her class’s curriculum.
Schumacher told Carlson that the children he works with do not have photo albums and pictures of themselves as babies or toddlers.
Many have been placed in orphanages because of war, disease, abuse or neglect.
The portraits the children receive not only serve as keepsakes, but give them a sense of identity and validation at a time they need it most.
Schumacher took photos of the orphans in November, and emailed them to Carlson’s class.
Carlson’s students spent several weeks on the portraits, starting with a grid, drawing the portrait upside down and using shading and detail to create a naturalistic likeness of their assigned child.
“This is not an easy thing to do,” said Carlson. “I am so proud of the effort my students put forth in learning how to draw a portrait to the very best of their ability.”
The students enclosed a note to go with the portrait, and some sent photos of themselves.
“Some of the letters the students wrote were really sweet...very heartfelt,” said Carlson. “I would think that the children who received them would feel very special knowing that someone from another country cares so much about them.”
The portraits were delivered by Schumacher in late January. He emailed Carlson photos of the orphans with their gifts.
“I literally cried when I saw the photos of the children holding their portraits,” said Carlson. “Each one looked so grateful.”
“There are a few things that we can do in life to really make a difference for someone else,” she added. “I think this project is one of those things. I know my students feel a sense of pride in knowing they made someone’s life a little better. My hope is that the lesson they learned goes way beyond learning how to draw a portrait.”