August 19, 2005
By MELISSA PIONZIO, Courant Staff Writer
Brittany Sims, 14, says her Sheldon-Charter Oak neighborhood
is more than just some urban space full of apartment buildings
"This is what this part of Hartford is," said Brittany, explaining
the images that she and other youngsters from the neighborhood have depicted
in a series of murals. "It has some nice buildings, some good parts
and bad parts. But we want people to realize that this is our neighborhood.
It's not so bad."
Through a series of eight, 4-by-8 foot murals created during a summer employment
program called Teen Teach, Brittany and a dozen other teenagers from Sheldon-Charter
Oak have expressed how they see their neighborhood.
The program was offered by the Capitol Region Education Council (CREC),
with financial support from Capital Workforce Partners and the Coalition
to Strengthen the Sheldon/Charter Oak Neighborhood, Inc.
Dubbed "Through Our Eyes," the
panels, which will eventually become a permanent exhibit in the neighborhood,
have been a work in progress for the last six weeks. The teens met daily
at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center on Van Block Avenue, where
they worked to compile information, draw rough drafts and paint.
"That was hard. To take teens who didn't know each other and work
together, to conceptualize what their neighborhood meant," said program
director Betsy LeBorious of CREC. "I really hoped they would feel a
sense of pride."
The teens began the project by taking photographs of their neighborhood.
Accompanied by younger children, five groups of teens took pictures of places
that were important to them. They photographed stores, apartment buildings,
the Church of the Good Shepherd and Kinsella School, where many of them
"It's cool," said Orlando Ocasio, 15, who had never painted something
so big before. "I told them to put in Kinsella because I went there
for pre-school through sixth grade."
With the help of Hartford artist Chet Kempczynski, who grew up in the Dutch
Point neighborhood nearby, the teens learned the intricacies of creating
murals. After sifting through more than 100 photos, they put together a
collage with such labels as: This Is Where I Get Food and Juice; Where I
Live; and Where We Be Chillin'.
Then they drew several sketches of the scene before transferring the images
onto a grid board. Each grid represented a section of the scene. Then they
reproduced each portion in pencil on the panels and painted them.
"I don't think they realized how big it was until they got to the
boards," said Kempczynski. "It's pretty original in terms of concepts.
It's their ideas and their images."
The first set of panels was done in black and white, followed by the next
seven, which explode with vivid pink, blue, green and yellow hues. Cobalt-blue
skies surround tall buildings, lots of trees and people walking in groups.
"The theme is going from old to new," said Kempczynski. "We
are not focusing on the past. We are looking to the future."
Kempczynski said he wanted the children to create a beautiful piece of
artwork that they could be proud of, and encouraged them to stay away from
obvious themes like drugs and violence.
"I like it," 14-year-old Naomi Ruiz said of the artwork. "When
you put it up on a building, you could picture where we live."
The panels were completed Thursday and will be installed as a permanent
exhibit on Van Block Avenue Sept. 29.
For information on the program and the artwork created in this story, call
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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