By Maggie Canty-Shafer
Artist Abby Sponaugle can find hope in a trashcan.
After rebuilding an orphanage destroyed by the hurricane in Haiti, the 23-year-old artist painted 32 of the resident children’s portraits on old window frames purchased from ReSource. She sells them for $150 – the price of the child’s education for one year.
“I wanted a more creative form of school sponsorship,” she said. “Something tangible, that could add to your life.”
The orphaned children range in age from five to 17 years, and are completely dependent on the orphanage – called The Maranatha House – for all basic needs. The money from the paintings goes entirely to keeping the children in school. This provides them not only an education but also a daily meal including milk, fruit and peanut butter – rich in nutrients they otherwise lack – as well as the skills to become productive members of society.
If her mission isn’t compelling enough, her method surely is. Because Sponaugle paints the portraits on the opposite side of the window from the viewer, she has to work backwards, starting with what would normally be the last step. For example, eyes are painted pupil first, then iris, followed by the rest of the eye. The whole painting is done with a Q-tip and takes up to two hours per face.
“It was always a surprise what the painting would end up looking like,” she said. “I learned as I went, and I had to think about the painting and the person a lot.”
Sponaugle knows each child personally from her time finishing the orphanage building and moving the children in. She includes a short biography of the subject with the paintings. This way, the purchaser knows whose face they’re buying – the life behind the art.
“My eye has always been drawn to people,” Sponaugle says of her artwork. “To the uniqueness of their forms and especially their faces. I’ve drawn many people and I’ve yet to find one wrinkle, eye crinkle, chin angle, lip form or eye sparkle that matches its neighbor or fails to taunt you with its silent stories.”
The paintings are made completely of recycled and reused materials, a trait of Sponaugle’s art – to use only what is at hand, wasting nothing and purchasing little.
The young woman’s stay at the orphanage was part of her second trip to the hurricane-devastated country. The first time she stayed with a host family, volunteering in a burn clinic and taking medical trips into villages and schools. She was able to learn their native tongue, Creole, and get to know the country.
“I love the culture and the people,” she said. “I hadn’t had a heart for the country until I’d been there.”
Her experience and connections in Haiti compelled her to return after the hurricane last January. This time, she was alongside her boyfriend, Kyle Keeler – who also helped collect and sand the frames – and three volunteers from Amber Outreach, a small, non-profit organization dedicated to responding to crisis.
The paintings are Sponaugle’s way of continuing to support the children of Haiti from home while she finishes up her degree in family and consumer sciences.
To purchase a painting or for more information, contact Sponaugle at AMillustrations@gmail.com or visit her website at www.amillustrations.weebly.com.