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Art with a specific purpose

[Memory portrait connects children who are worlds apart]

The lessons that students are learning this fall as they apply pencil to paper in their Skaneateles High School art classes go beyond details of portrait-making.

As they make careful grids across the photographs in front of them, big beautiful eyes stare back. These are not the faces of the students' family members or friends. These are the faces of children who live in an orphanage in Honduras.

Teacher Linda Torrey can't begin to list all of the ways the project has already affected her students, who will spend hours and hours looking into the faces of these children as they draw their portraits.

They are getting to know them as they learn the shape of their noses, the look in their eyes. They are calling them by name, and wondering how they spend their days.

She says the big take-home lesson is that "One person really can make a difference."

In this case, the one person who has made a giant difference is Ben Schumaker of Wisconsin, who had the vision of having advanced art students create portraits of children in orphanages around the world in a program called Memory Portraits. (It is part of a larger project that can be found at www.thememoryproject.org). Torrey jumped on board for her students after Schumaker and his project were featured on the national evening news. Torrey said Skaneateles High School Principal Georgette Hoskins saw the report and suggested she check it out.

Torrey was one of the first in a flood of teachers nationwide to contact Schumaker in mid September. He sent her pictures of children. The two have been in contact and Schumaker has referred reporters from national newspapers and magazines to speak to Torrey and students at the high school.

Each of 14 students in Torrey's advanced art classes has a photo of his or her "own" child to draw. When the portraits are completed, they will be sent to Schumaker who will eventually hand-deliver them to the children and the orphanage.

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