Creating Memories Through Portraits

In the fall and again in the spring, Ross High School students painted the portraits of children from Haiti and Rwanda for the Memory Project, an organization that pairs American art students with children living in orphanages around the world. These portraits were sent to the children as gifts; in return, Ross students received photos of the children holding their portraits.

The Memory Project was developed by Ben Schumaker in 2004. While volunteering at an orphanage in Guatemala in 2003, Ben learned that the kids had few special belongings to represent moments of their childhood. They had very few photos, for example, to serve as memories from their early years. Since Ben had always enjoyed making portraits in school art classes, he decided to get art students involved in creating portraits for the kids. To date, the project has created nearly 50,000 portraits for kids in 34 countries.

Ross has been participating in this project for about eight years. “Janet Goleas, who at the time was the educational director at Guild Hall, introduced me to this project,” said Jen Cross, dean of Visual Arts at Ross. “She encouraged me to get my students to participate, and that first year we exhibited the portraits at the museum before sending them to children in Zimbabwe.” Since then, students have created portraits for children in Haiti, Ecuador, and Rwanda.

The artists who participated this year include students from Russia, Thailand, Spain, China, and Korea, as well as the United States. The students who painted portraits for children in Haiti were Ariel Anza, Lily Chu, Alena Chuvashina, Caitlin Cummings, Yawen Jiang, Serena Kim, Sohee Kim, Jason Song, Rita Tong, and Yulia Yuan. The student artists who painted portraits of children in Rwanda were Natalie Earsakul, Cheyenne Eberstadt, Aiyana Jaffe, Min Kim, Serena Kim, Long Lin, Phil Liu, Reyes Martinez, and Cosma Siekierski.