Jamie Batchelder only knew a few pertinent facts about her portrait subject.
Even so, Batchelder, a 10-year-old fifth-grader at Red Hawk Ridge Elementary School, was making steady progress on a realistic drawing of a child she'd never met, a schoolgirl from Puerto Rico named Carlyianys. Batchelder's guide in her artistic endeavor was a single color photo, and she was dedicated to capturing every detail of her subject with accuracy.
"I know that she's 8 years old, and I know that she likes the color pink," Batchelder said. "I'm going to try to add a pink gradient to the background after I'm done with the face."
It was important to Batchelder that the portrait be flawless and heartfelt. After all, the finished product would eventually make its way to Carlyianys in Puerto Rico, and Batchelder wanted to make sure it had the proper impact. Batchelder was one of 14 Red Hawk Ridge fifth-graders working on art pieces as part of the school's participation in the Memory Project, an initiative that invites art teachers and their students to create and donate portraits to young people around the world who have faced substantial challenges.
Helmed by Red Hawk Ridge Art Teacher Amy Marsh, this year's Red Hawk Ridge project specifically targeted children in Puerto Rico, a country still struggling to recover from the damage wrought by Hurricane Maria in 2017. According to Marsh, who has organized Memory Project work at the school for the past four years, the result of the work is inspiring for all of the children involved.
For the recipients, the effect is inspirational – the children see their own faces in a creative and artistic light. Video of students in the Congo receiving last year's crop of portrait shows children accepting the artwork with huge smiles on their faces and an unmistakable light in their eyes.
For the young artists, the process offers an important degree of perspective – these students spend weeks focused on an art project that widens their horizons and introduces them to students facing a host of challenges.
"These students feel like they know that child after looking into their eyes for months," Marsh said. "I choose the top artists from my class; they have to be open to critique."
The young artists spend weeks honing their skills and refining their abilities. They divide their subjects' faces into thirds, focus on values and create backgrounds that accurately reflect the unique personalities of their subjects.
They also use the project as a means of bringing awareness to their classmates. This year, the artists will create a presentation about the history of Puerto Rico to present to the rest of the school before they officially send off the final versions of their portraits at the end of April.
Jamie Batchelder had some significant work to do before taking that step. She wanted to make sure the eyes, nose and mouth of her portrait were perfect before she moved on drawing the hair. She wanted to plan the perfect color scheme and design for the background. Most of all, she wanted to convey a sense of respect and beauty to Carlyianys and all of her peers in Puerto Rico.
"I want them to feel happy. I want them to feel special. I want them to feel like they really matter," Batchelder said. "Because they do."
Click here to see video of students in the Congo receiving Red Hawk Ridge artists' portraits last year.