The Home for Little Wanderers’ Journey to Outer Space and Beyond

Caroline Fenton

Out of a grey-green, steaming swamp rose several eyeballs, staring eerily at their viewers. The scene was an extraterrestrial dreamscape that made the little green Martians of Saturday morning cartoons seem light-years away.

This painting was part of an exhibition called Voices and Visions, with the theme “Outer Space and Beyond”. It was hosted by the Home for Little Wanderers and displayed on May 13-14 at the Knight Children’s Center Gymnasium in Jamaica Plain, and again on May 26 at a gala event at the Seaport World Trade Center in Boston.

The art for the exhibition was created by students at three special education schools: the Knight Children’s Center, the Baird Center in Plymouth and Clifford School in Walpole. The larger-than-life creations included a papier-mâché astronaut suspended from the ceiling, an electric-blue and orange alien depicted in a spray painting reminiscent of graffiti, and wood tiles with outer-space comic book scenes burnt into their surfaces. The mediums and styles used for each piece varied widely, reminding viewers of the mystery that lies beyond the Earth’s atmosphere.

“Art is very therapeutic for kids that have gone through traumatic pasts,” explained Heather MacFarlane, Public Relations Manager at the Home for Little Wanderers. The three schools run by the home provide a safe and secure environment for students that have endured abuse and neglect, or have been through some emotional trauma that prevents them from attending other schools. Visitors to the exhibition were encouraged to write their impressions in small notebooks that stood beside each piece of art, giving the students a chance to receive positive feedback and build confidence in their abilities.

It was clear that strong emotions had been invested into each piece. Vivid paint-splatter supernovas and dark landscapes evoked the joy and anguish of youth. Chunky Styrofoam sculptures, chalk drawings and shadow boxes represented the younger participants, while giant canvases and kiln-fired pottery showed off the artistic prowess of older students. The artists ranged from 2nd graders to 9th graders.

“Sitting and talking is not always an effective form of therapy for the students [at the Knight Children’s Center]. Using your hands to see the creative process from start to finish can be a great way to express yourself,” said Shaheer Mustafa, Program Director at the Knight Children’s Center. The students involved in the Voices and Visions project worked with an art teacher, Alex McShane, to complete their projects while learning about outer space. The staff and students decided on this year’s theme because the students were enthusiastic about the subject and the staff saw it as an opportunity to create imaginative and vibrant art. Last year’s exhibition featured a “Landscapes of New England” theme, giving students a hands-on history lesson on local architecture.

This year, the Voices and Visions exhibition celebrated its 20th anniversary. While it started as a small display, it has grown over the last five years to become the signature fundraising event for the Home for Little Wanderers. This year’s gala at the Seaport World Trade Center honored Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley, as well as long-time foster parents Grace and Frank Cyr. It featured a silent auction of some of the students’ pieces and a dinner, for which corporate sponsors could purchase a table. Each year, the event raises close to one million dollars to benefit the organization.

Besides the visual art on display, the exhibition also included creative writing. “The moon is in a giant refrigerator and if someone leaves the door open it gets rotten,” wrote one student. Another, “It was bloody red with flames all around it. I knew this could only mean one thing… The sun was about to blow up!”  Creating narratives about space gave the students a chance to combine practical facts about the size, location, and characteristics of planets with fantastical storytelling.

Lisa Rowan-Gillis, Vice President of Development and Public Relations, emphasized the importance of maintaining “extras” in special education, including art, music, and gym, with a statement straight from one of the participants: “I like art because there are no wrong answers.” This uninhibited feeling will likely take each young artist to new heights of educational exploration.

About the Home for Little Wanderers

The Home for Little Wanderers is a nationally renowned, private, non-profit child and family service agency. It has been part of the Massachusetts landscape for over 200 years, making it the oldest agency of its kind in the nation and one of the largest in New England. Originally founded as a orphanage in 1799 (see www.thehome.org for more details), The Home today plays a leadership role in delivering services to thousands of children and families each year through a system of residential, community-based and prevention programs, direct care services, and advocacy.

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