With art, youths find confidence

September 20, 1994|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Staff Writer

Residents of the Thomas O'Farrell Youth Center are thanking their art teacher for a renewed sense of achievement.

The teen-age boys, committed to the Marriottsville center by the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services, enter the program with a severe lack of self-confidence, said Anthony McFarlane, a teacher who has shown his students how art can generate pride.

A year's work culminated in the first of what Mr. McFarlane hopes will become annual art shows. The celebration of his students' creative efforts opened to the community Friday at the center.

"They come in here as losers, with society against them," said Mr. McFarlane, while several students put the finishing touches on their exhibits. "Many can't believe they could do all this. The show tells them they can."

Holding a multicolored coiled snake that a student had modeled from clay-like material, he recounted how pleased the young sculptor was that his work made the show.

"As far as he was concerned, he thought his work would be forgotten," said the teacher. "He was amazed when he saw his snake in the show."

Mr. McFarlane made sure no student was forgotten. Sixteen residents, and some program alumni who have returned to their communities, all showed their best works in the exhibit. Their teacher took little credit.

"I just directed the students and shared my experience with them," Mr. McFarlane said.

The residents built their own display backgrounds from wooden lattice panels. The entries were as varied as the media the youth chose.

Paintings, etchings, collages, clay sculpture and tie-dyed T-shirts filled the O'Farrell center gymnasium. Across the entrance, the students hung the school flag they had printed with "TOYC a community of dignity and respect."

"All these kids have incredible talents," said Bill Green, center director. "Many times they have demonstrated those talents and nobody has made a big deal. We are giving them positive attention for positive things."

Mike, 17, whose last day at the center coincided with the exhibit, said art filled many hours for him.

"I took some time to draw before I came here," he said. "Now, I work on art every day. My teacher helped me a lot, and I am proud to exhibit my stuff."

The "stuff" included still-life pen and ink drawings and brightly colored country scenes -- all drawn from memory. Mike, who hopes to pursue a career in commercial art, was leaving his paintings at the school as a thank you.

"Mike draws continuously," remarked Mr. McFarlane. "He can leave some here with us."

Newly woven baskets and intricate nail collages formed another display.

"Tedious work, but it helps develop hand-eye coordination," the teacher said.

Nearly all the residents contributed to a large collage titled "Two-headed Monster -- All Things Must Change." Half of the collage contained images of drugs, alcohol and handcuffs -- frequent scenes from the boys' lives before they entered the program. The other side -- "gotta be me" -- focused on their hopes for the future: family, jobs, even a credit card.

Daniel, 17, said he didn't know if art was for everybody but "it sure is for me." He detailed the steps involved in tie-dying and displayed shirts with both splattered colors and formalized patterns.

Frieda Miller, assistant director of the North American Family Institute that operates the center, wondered if Daniel could design jerseys with the school colors. Ms. Miller was visiting the exhibit from out of town "to show support for everyone's efforts."

Daniel said he hopes eventually to enroll in a culinary arts school. He can transfer his new art skills to food presentation, he said.

Art oftens shows the residents how to make productive use of their time and energy and can be a key to a successful future, Mr. McFarlane said.

"Many boys will leave here with effective avenues to channel their energy," he said.

Neal, 17, envisions a future in graphic arts. For now, he likes to re-create cartoon characters.

"Art calms me down, helps me to relax and let out my frustrations," he said. "I can express my feelings on paper."

John, 16, exhibited a drawing of three new friends relaxing on a favorite exercise course at the center. In another picture, he painted "stuff I have been through and stuff I have been thinking about" in puzzle pieces.

Mr. Green said the show was one more step on the road to the residents' re-entry into their communities.

"We want to recognize their every little step along the way here," Mr. Green said. "These kids have gotten attention for negative things before they came here. We stroke them on a constant basis for the good they are doing in this program."

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