The Power of Portraiture

Jenelle Radzim, Journalist

     Around this festive time of year, many find themselves smothered with gifts: fancy high heeled shoes, the latest and greatest technological device, the colorful new toy promoted on TV… the list goes on. The most heartfelt presents, though, are undeniably the homemade ones.They’re a bit rough around the edges, sure, but as always, the sentiment behind them is what matters most. There’s truly no replicating that special joy you feel upon unwrapping something somebody made just for you to treasure. To help spread this joy on an international level this holiday season, Ipswich High School’s art club participated in The Memory Project, a nonprofit organization that “invites art teachers and their students to create portraits for youth around the world who have faced substantial challenges, such as neglect, abuse, loss of parents, and extreme poverty” (Smith).

     Founded by Ben Schumaker in 2004, The Memory Project promotes “intercultural awareness, friendship, and kindness between children around the world through the universal language of art” (Smith). Upon being gifted a work of art, these children realize that they are valued and loved in spite of the hardships they face in day to day life. Furthermore, creativity is sparked in societies where making a career out of the arts is virtually impossible; the opportunity to create art itself is oftentimes viewed as a luxury that few from rural villages or the middle class can afford.

     “When you have to spend all of your time supporting yourself, it makes sense that you don’t really have the time to create art,” says Gail Pepe, Ipswich High School’s art club advisor, “I’ve had so many kids who come from struggling families that have to give up on art school because it’s not the most financially stable career path. It’s really a shame. The best we can do, though, is to inspire people who are not as fortunate as others, and do something really great in the process.” After coming across The Memory Project by chance online, Pepe encouraged her passionate art club students to take part. Grabbing their trusty paintbrushes, favorite chalks, and vibrant markers, her twenty-one students excitedly got to work. 

     One of these club members, sophomore Morgan Marshall, took one look at seventeen year old Yosef Baqri’s photograph and was emotionally struck. “He looked like the type of kid who’d walk these halls. He would probably be my upperclassman,” she explained, “I felt this personal connection with him. I just had to paint him and bring a little happiness into his life. Everyone deserves happiness on some scale, you know?” The result was a stunning acrylic portrait that, among twenty other passionately crafted works, was mailed back to Pakistan before Christmas.

     We often take for granted the inherent liberties we possess simply by living in the United States of America. While some are not as fortunate as others in different ways in our country, we all have the power to bring smiles to the faces of others with a little bit of creative energy and passion.


Works Cited

Smith, Angela. “About Us.” The Memory Project,