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Hillcrest High students paint Syrian children’s portraits

Feb 27, 2017 01:37PM ● Published by Julie Slama

Hillcrest High School art students paint portraits of Syrian refugee orphans and through Memory Project the children received the personal keepsakes. (Kari Bennett/Hillcrest High School)

By Julie Slama | julie@mycityjournals.com
 
Hillcrest High School junior Brady Hartog was excited to paint a portrait of a Syrian refugee girl as a class project.
 
“It was a new experience to make a portrait of someone on the other side of the world, to connect to them was appealing and intriguing,” he said.
 
Brady and 23 other students in Hillcrest’s advanced placement and international baccalaureate programs decided to participate in painting portraits of Syrian refugees in conjunction with an organization called the Memory Project. 
 
The Memory Project gave Hillcrest students photographs to paint, then the students gave The Memory Project the portraits to deliver to the children.  The high school students then received a video of the children receiving their artwork.
 
Hillcrest art teacher Kari Bennett said her students chose to work with Syrian children.
 
“When I asked if anyone was interested in doing the Memory Project, it was anonymous.  Last year, we painted Ethiopian orphans.  When I gave them the choice of countries, the students chose Syria,” she said.
 
First, the students learned about the situation in Syria.
 
“Part of the IB curriculum is connecting to the world so they shared with the class the lead up of the country’s civil war, the conditions of these refugees and where the 2.7 million refugees are taking refuge,” she said.
 
Then Bennett had her students learn more about painting portraits from which colors to use to shadowing and proportions. Several worked in watercolor, some tried oil paints and others chose colored pencils.
 
Although the portraits, which were sent in 9-inch by 12-inch plastic sleeves in early 2017 would be given to the children, Hillcrest students photographed their work beforehand so it could be used in their portfolios as well as a memento of helping “brighten a child’s day and reminding them there are people in the world who care about them,” she said.
 
“We allowed some liberties with the portraits such as if there is a scar, students could eliminate it, or if the colors were dull, we’d allow them to use bright colors to give them a nice portrait.  They need a little more color in their lives,” Bennett said.
 
When the Hillcrest students received the 30 photographs of the students from Memory Project, she laid out them out so students could study the children.  Then, they were allowed to select one and “spend time over Christmas with them,” she said.
 
“I wanted them to consider their situation and what this portrait will mean to them.  By far these have been the most successful since they invested the time and made that connection,” Bennett said.
 
Brady picked nine-year-old Aleppo, who likes the color red.  That was the only information Memory Project shares with the artists.
 
But Brady saw more.
 
“I picked Aleppo for her intriguing expression; she is half smiling.  I studied her so I felt I got to know her personally.  I found myself doing that expression.  Facial expressions are a universal language so I began to understand her,” he said.
 
Then, he began to sketch her and experiment with colors and proportions.  He said he learned drawing children was “completely different in proportions than adults I’ve been drawing.”
 
Brady also said he learned her skin tone was different than others he has been used to drawing in this part of the world.
 
“I needed to use different colors and blend them to create her skin tone. I made a few preliminary sketches where she was too skinny or too old or her eyes weren’t right.  As I understood her circumstances in Syria, I could see her apart form both common humanity and see her expression as a bit of joy,” Brady said.
 
After he began his final version, it took him about eight hours to complete it.
 
“The best part was not for my personal artistic work, but for the job it will bring to the heritage of others and that it may be kept in her family for generations to cherish,” he said.
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