Lead artist Carolyn Elaine and assistant artist Jason Dunda worked for two consecutive years with students from Jacqueline Vaughn Occupational HS. Under the auspices of Gallery 37’s after-school program, the two introduced a group of 10-15 youths with mild to moderate cognitive disabilities to a variety of techniques for mosaic work.
In 2002, this program produced a large scale mosaic for the main exterior wall of the school, allowing high visibility to pedestrian and vehicle traffic. The experience enabled the paid apprentices to verbalize and express through their artwork, issues pertaining to their “identity” as physically/developmentally challenged students. The theme, “I Am Just Who I Am”, was developed as a positive, affirming call for self-acceptance. The creation of the mural proved to be a major event in the scholastic lives not only of the apprentices but also for the school community in general.
The mural begins with a very colorful abstract figure. The apprentices were led in a design exercise where they created Blind Contour Drawings. While holding a mirror in one hand they were instructed to use the other hand to draw a self portrait. The key was to focus only on the image in the mirror without viewing what was being created by the other hand. The experience served as a metaphor for life; although none of us has control over the bodies in which we are born or the various circumstances of our lives, we must learn to accept and appreciate our unique characteristics and contributions.
In 2003, the apprentices (many returning from the previous year), designed and fabricated a second mosaic entitled “I choose My Own Path”. This mosaic uses in its design, imagery created by the apprentices in their independent painting projects. Given an actual pair of shoes, each student was asked to paint them with colors and designs that best expressed their personalities. These vibrant and detailed patterns were translated in mosaic and appear in the footprints that clearly connect the two murals as well as the background of the second artwork.
Both compositions include self portraits of the apprentices that were gained through a unique design development exercise. Armed with disposable cameras, they were asked to document each other’s personalities within the school environment as well as in the community. Silhouettes of the images captured in the photographs were used throughout the mural design.
Where “I Am Just Who I Am” addresses ideas of self-acceptance in the present, “I Choose My Own Path” suggests the potential that positive, empowered, educated individuals can create for themselves. The apprentices wanted to instill; that taking responsibility for your own choices, directly impacts the direction/path of your life, as a message to all teens, regardless of their disposition.