Painted portraits of kids in orphanage
By Juliann Morris
March 16, 2023—Art students from Pleasure Ridge Park High School completed a special project this school year: View photos of a child in a Nigerian orphanage, use the photo to paint a portrait of that child, and then send it to the child as a keepsake from their childhood. It was a labor of love through a global non-profit initiative called The Memory Project.
"It's definitely one of the most memorable and meaningful art projects I've ever done, because it's not just something I did for myself or for a contest," said 12th grade PRP student Mia Langford. "We got to bring happiness and meaning to someone else."
In August, 15 PRP students were given a photograph of a child along with their name, three personality traits, their favorite color, and what they want to be when they grow up. PRP Art Teacher Denise Webb said students were intimidated at first at the challenge of capturing and conveying the likeness of someone they had never met.
The art students put their talent to work infusing the children's personality traits and dreams into each portrait. Students worked on the portraits on-and-off through January, doing sketches and multiple iterations before sending their final pieces to The Memory Project for distribution to the orphanage.
Twelfth grade PRP student Lana Elder said this project was one of the more challenging—and rewarding—pieces of artwork she's ever completed. The child she was tasked with painting said he wanted to be an officer, so she drew him in uniform so he could envision himself achieving that goal.
"At first, I was afraid that they would be upset with the way I drew them," Elder said. "I just had to be really persistent, buecause this was the most important piece of art to me."
This project offered students a chance to make positive cultural connections and see first-hand how their art can make a difference in the world, Webb said. Students learned about Nigeria as they worked on their portraits and got a glimpse into the hardships the orphans have experienced.
"These children have lost everything," Webb said. "They've lost their families, they're in a war-torn country. I explained to my students that most of these children do not have cell phones or the ability to take pictures of themselves like students do here in the US. This was a chance to create mementos of their childhood."
Memory Project staff recently delivered the 15 paintings to the Nigerian kids, creating a video of the children's reaction to receiving a portrait of themselves. The PRP students were excited to see the reactions of those receiving their gifts.
"I just couldn't stop smiling," Elder said. "All of the kids were cheering. Just seeing the smiles on their faces, it was really rewarding."