Manlius: Wellwood students learn compassion through art project

Portraits that currently hang at a local gallery will soon be on their way to orphans in Nicaragua. Twenty three art students from Wellwood Middle School created them as part of an international endeavor geared primarily toward high school students. This is their second year participating.

Wisconsin native Ben Schumaker founded the Memory Project after a month-long journey volunteering in a Guatemalan orphanage. An unidentified man who was once an orphan himself stopped by the orphanage and spoke with Schumaker. He said he had no personal belongings from his youth: no photographs, keepsakes or parents to help him reflect on his own growth. His advice to Schumaker: help kids collect special items that will contribute to their sense of identity and personal self-worth. Nine months later, in the fall of 2004, the Memory Project was born.

Wellwood art teachers Heather Spoor and Jill McAndrew signed on the mission last year, promising Schumaker that their students could create the quality portraits he was looking for.

"They have amazed me for two years in a row," Schumaker said in an email from Honduras where he was delivering portraits to orphans. "This project is actually designed for high school students, but the Wellwood kids have met and exceeded all expectations despite their younger age."

Each student received a photograph of an orphan ranging in age from four to 16 years old that served as a guide to create the portrait. Students could use color pencils, soft pastels, oil pastels or watercolors.

"We tried to do the portraits realistic," Spoor said.

The 23 eighth graders are part of the Studio and Art class -- a high school level course that requires a recommendation.

Schumaker hand delivers the 11-by-14-inch portraits to the orphans, along with letters written by the Wellwood students. More than $700 will also be sent to the kids through an initiative the artists took on themselves.

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