Art with a Heart opens shop

Heartwares offers artworks

December 03, 2010|By Mary Gail Hare, The Baltimore Sun

The contractor placed the sign over Heartwares, a new shop in Hampden, a bit prematurely. One of the proprietors said enhancements were in order and made him take it down.

"It needed more bling," said Randi Pupkin, 48, executive director of Art with a Heart, a nonprofit group that engages the community's neediest in art and will now sell their work in the store. "It can't be just a plain sign. It had to have shiny, happy things surrounding it."

So, when the store officially opens on Keswick Road on Saturday, a glittery sign will beckon shoppers into a pristine space filled with fabric art, whimsical jewelry, painted furniture and more.

Pupkin has been helping seniors, youths, the abused and the homeless tap into their own artistry and add bling to their lives for the past decade. She takes art classes on the road to what she calls "Baltimore's most compromised communities."

The store has long been part of Pupkin's vision. She calls it the "last branch of a tree" she planted a decade ago, when she abandoned her law practice to start Art with a Heart from the back of her station wagon.

She now oversees 1,400 courses a year at schools, senior and recreation centers, hospitals, shelters and group homes, trying to light a spark of creativity amid what is often the most dire circumstances. Her fledgling artists are making marketable works of art, and Heartwares now will offer them a commercial outlet. The profits will help pay the costs of Art with a Heart projects.

Heartwares' inventory offers testament to those who created its merchandise. Two fabric art wall hangings pay tribute to the group home residents who worked on them. The girls put "just for fun" in their piece and the boys dubbed theirs "The House of Real Guys."

"It is the evolution of our youth jobs program," said Caroline Meredith, store manager, referring to Art with a Heart's summer workshops.

About 90 percent of what is made begins with recycled items or donations. Vinyl records decorate the tops of bar stools. Paint can lids are made into coasters and fabric remnants are woven into place mats. An old stable door from the organization's headquarters, just a block away, is now the table top for the art classes the store will hold.

Creative expression increases self-esteem, improves coping and communication skills, and instills individuals with respect, Pupkin said.

"Creative thinkers are important in the work force today," Pupkin said. "Art helps expand the mind. When working in the real world, art will help people use their creativity and be successful."

Sometimes that creativity comes haphazardly. As Pupkin prepared young adults in a jobs-training program to work on a 20-foot-long tile mural one recent morning, she heard glass shattering in the background as bits of mirrored glass fell from one panel.

"It's OK," she said. "Nothing was glued down. We are very resourceful here."

Art with a Heart's ground floor space in what is one of Hampden's most recognizable buildings shows off the artwork of participants in the myriad programs as well as that of the volunteers who are putting together the mural for the city's first shelter for homeless youths.

"Everything you see here is made by participants or volunteers," Pupkin said.

Rachel Finklestein, a teacher in a Goodwill jobs training program, brought the students, who had just begun the 16-week program, to Art with a Heart to work on the mural. The young adults get in-store training as they work on life skills, leadership and customer service, but art provides them endless opportunity, she said.

"It's good for them to work on something large and then see the end result," Finklestein said. "Here they are working together on a team project that they can plan, implement and see to completion. This fosters creative thinking and lets them see how that applies to art and the work force."

Felicia Clayton, 21, of Pikesville said she is aiming for a career in graphic arts or fashion design.

"I like to create things," said Clayton, wearing safety glasses, gloves and an apron. "I like art and have always been an art junkie. I also like to organize and put things together.

Fellow trainee Parris Haynes, 19, of Edmondson Village said, "I like that we are taking nothing and making something really big out of it."

When Pupkin offered a free lunch, most of the mural workers offered to stay past the four-hour shift. Participants know the refrigerator is well-stocked, and fresh fruit and healthful snacks are placed throughout the space. At the end of the day, it is usually all gone.

"We have found that hunger is a big issue in this city," she said. At the summer jobs program, she provides breakfast and lunch and something to take home.

No more glass shattered as the trainees focused on the task.

"I love how everything has a purpose, even a piece of art," said Tavon Thomas, Goodwill program manager. "This program gives participants a larger sense of community and a chance to express their own creativity and strengthen their skills."

Pupkin looked over the busy group members.

"They are all really engaged, doing something productive and positive, not sitting idle or playing video games," she said. "They are really figuring out how pieces of glass can form cohesive images."

Heartwares celebrates its grand opening from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday at 3512 Keswick Road. Information: 410-366-2054.

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