Pupils' self-portraits get place on corner

Art: Children's paintings brighten their neighborhood while letting the artists enjoy having their work publicly displayed.

February 05, 2000|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Just north of the gold and green Guilford Avenue bridge, inner-city kids trek past blighted homes en route to school. This week, the art of some of those children cheered the look of the lonely corner where Latrobe and Federal Streets meet.

Four girls, pupils at nearby Mildred D. Monroe Elementary School in the 1600 block of Guilford Ave., looked on with barely concealed joy as their painted self-portraits were hammered on the plywood-covered door and windows of a city-owned vacant Formstone rowhouse.

A small crowd of schoolmates, service workers, parents and the principal, Verlynne Hutson-Herring, watched Tim Harrison, a volunteer carpenter, change the face of the house.

Stacey Segar, 10, explained her striking portrait, in which she lies on a bed of green wearing a pink dress adorned with hearts, flowers and stars: "I was dreaming down on the ground, dreaming about people playing outside."

Hence, her artwork's title: "My Daydream." Stacey's universe has three suns, she pointed out.

Stacey, with Shadai Johnson, Keyerra Greene and Cindy Curtis, participated in a youth art project developed by the Village Learning Place, a nonprofit library, garden and community center set to open in May at the closed Enoch Pratt Free Library branch in Charles Village. For now, the staff uses a rented office within walking distance of the old gingerbread brick building in the 2500 block of St. Paul St.

Coordinators said similar works will be mounted at 2: 45 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday to display art by pupils at Barclay and Margaret Brent Elementary schools in Charles Village.

The children were selected because they completed a 12-week after-school course that began in September, said Jenny Harvey, a VISTA worker at the Greater Homewood Community Corp. assigned to conduct youth outreach for the Village Learning Place.

This week, the four Mildred Monroe girls received public recognition for their labors. The paintings will stay up indefinitely, school officials said. City housing officials gave permission for the postings.

As a finishing touch, each girl autographed her work.

`A real artist'

"I felt like a real artist," said Shadai as she signed her name. "Something that's your own responsibility. It seems like I'm famous." Her picture depicts her in bright blue shoes and matching skirt, enjoying "A Day in the Park" against an orange background.

The placement of the pictures may be as crucial to the exercise as the pictures themselves, an art therapist says.

"To have their pictures hung in common is a fantastic esteem-builder," said Mary Ann Hendricks, a school-based art therapist for Johns Hopkins Children's Center. In a neighborhood troubled by drugs, crime and poverty, where 177 of 180 schoolchildren have free lunch tickets, having their art shown in public can have an impact on the children.

"As their little lives unfold, they may not feel that great about themselves," Hendricks said. "This says something about themselves: I matter enough to put a picture in the neighborhood."

Sense of ownership

Christopher Emigholz, 22, a VISTA worker known as "Mr. Chris" to the Mildred Monroe children, said the community is somewhat isolated: south of North Avenue, north of train tracks, west of the Greenmount Avenue cemetery, and east of St. Paul Street.

Hutson-Herring, the principal who walked through icy streets to admire the children's work, said, "It's given them a sense of community ownership," the sense that public space can belong to them.

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