Sharing art and faith created special bonds between students from South Christian High School in Grand Rapids, Mich., and residents from a local senior living center this spring. A class assignment resulted in dozens of hand-drawn portraits as well as new intergenerational relationships that enriched both seniors and students.
In April, 70 drawing and painting students along with 20 graphic arts students met with residents at Byron Center Manor, an independent and assisted living facility not far from the school. Each student interviewed a senior, took photos, and did preliminary sketches for the pencil and charcoal portraits he or she would work on for the next several weeks.
Art teacher Roberta Van Haitsma, a member of Discovery Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, along with her friend Julie Bouma, operations manager at Byron Center Manor, came up with the idea.
“It’s good for generations to work together,” said Bouma of the project. She also liked that the residents and their families would have a keepsake afterward.
In class, Van Haitsma and her students talked about putting their faith and love into action and connecting to people through art, “including the outsiders, the lonely, and the forgotten.” She noted how seriously students took the responsibility to faithfully represent the people they were drawing. “I think the results are charming,” she said.
On May 16, an art reception brought the artists and their subjects together again for a celebration, where the students could show their new friends their portraits and reconnect.
“It’s been really cool to bond with them and learn about how it was when they were a kid,” said Justin Sytsma, student artist and a member of Friendship CRC in Byron Center.
Wuendy Diaz Diaz , another student artist, said, “At times I was scared and frustrated, because drawing people is really hard.” When she arrived at the May reception, Diaz Diaz learned the man whose portrait she drew was not going to live much longer.
Diaz Diaz gave her new friend and his family the gift of the original portrait she drew. “They loved it so much and he wanted me to keep it, but I wanted to remember my time with him and that big smile on his face when he saw the drawing. His reaction was priceless and I will forever remember him,” she said.