With careful strokes of a pencil, Amanda Valentin detailed the emerging face of Faith Spotted Eagle with an accuracy typically reserved for photographs.
“I thought she was inspiring as a Native American and as a woman,” Valentin said of her subject, an educator, activist and member of the Yankton Sioux Nation perhaps best known for her role in the protests against the Keystone XL Pipeline. “People with powerful stories really speak to me.”
Native Americans – famous or unnamed, current or historical – are the latest portraits in the five-part FACES series. Every semester over the past three years, Professor Patricia Evans’ beginning drawing students have produced detailed pencil portraits intended to celebrate the marginalized and overlooked.
The project began three years ago, when Professor Evans was asked for her ideas on how to celebrate the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the State of New York. She then had her beginning drawing students create the FACES of Women’s Suffrage as the first exhibit in the series. A trip to Germany and the Holocaust Museum provided the somber inspiration for the next round of portraits: those of Holocaust victims and survivors. Others followed: the Underground Railroad and the legacy of slavery, veterans and, this semester, Native Americans.
Students don’t just recreate a photo as a large-scale drawing; they research their subjects, adding extra depth and awareness to the project. The goal is to educate the viewer and also foster compassion for others.
“The students have worked so hard. I am so proud of all of you!” Professor Evans said during the March 21 reception for the exhibit.
The project, with its incredible attention to detail, is especially amazing when you consider that it was created by beginning drawing students – many times, students new to art, noted Executive Vice President and Chief Academic Officer Francis Battisti.
“The classroom is sacred ground and this is an example of that,” Dr. Battisti said. “When I look into the eyes of these portraits, I can really see it – the anguish and the experience in them.”
It took 2½ months for Asmae Lhamrani to complete her portrait of Henry Ossian Flipper, a former slave who was the first African-American to graduate from West Point in 1877, after which he became a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army.
An Individual Studies major who plans on going to dental school, Asmae enjoys drawing as a form of relaxation and creativity. So does Nursing major Rachel Seifert, who was working on her portrait, depicting an unknown Native American girl, her eyes wide with shock or grief.
“I picked her because she could be anyone,” she said, noting the impact of the Trail of Tears on countless Native Americans who lost their homes. “The look in her eyes was too much to ignore.”
While students come from diverse majors, others – such as Valentin, who is interested in animation – have a longstanding interest in art. Anya Karlgut, who created a detailed portrait of Sitting Bull, is among them.
“I liked working on the feathers,” said the Visual Communications Arts major. “It was an interesting project.”
During the March 21 event, students stood next to their already-produced pieces in the Gallery @ SUNY Broome, eagerly chatting with exhibit visitors about their work. Others, such as Rachel and Amanda, labored on their works in progress, to the delight of viewers.
With his hand, Jordan Paugh perfected the shading on the face of Wolf Robe, a Southern Cheyenne Chief from the 19th century. A Liberal Arts major, he plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in game design – probably at SUNY Canton. The drawing class is one way for him to master the “art aspect of game design,” he explained.
Visitors were impressed by both the quality of the students’ work, as well as the depth of the message.
“When you find meaning in life, you change not only yourself, but you change others,” Professor Evans said.