From the Pen to Pencil
Charcoal portraits by students of UNC Asheville's Correctional Education
program in three western North Carolina Correctional Institutions

Opening Reception Tuesday November 18th at 2pm.

UNC Asheville adjunct professor, Monika Teal, taught the Art of Portraiture to
students (Marvin C, Joseph F, Kenneth H, Jared B, Erwin B, Timmy R, Isaac P, Walter P & Joshua C) in three western North Carolina Correctional Institutions in the spring and summer of 2008.

The classes were offered as part of UNC Asheville's Correctional Education program which is supported by a grant from the North Carolina Department of Corrections. Drawing materials were restricted to graphite and charcoal on paper. In spite of several limitations, the exhibit, From the
Pen and Pencil, contains works that reflect the students' imagination, intelligence, creativity, love, sadness and humor and defines their particular lives and circumstances.
Teaching in  prison is one of the most rewarding experiences of my professional career.  The prisoners in my classes must pass all the  normal requirements to take university credit classes.  They are intelligent, witty, and talented.  They are hungry to learn and hungry to turn their lives around. They have a knowledge that belies their young  years, and they bring this life experience with them when they take an art class.

Art classes are  taught with special constraints not found in a normal classroom. Materials are  restricted, due to the possibility of turning them into weapons, tattoos, or  contraband.   Lack of possessions has made them creative in the use of what they do have. 

They are allowed pencils and paper. The size of the paper, the number of and kinds of pencil are also important. No pencil sharpeners are allowed and usually only one eraser.  Any other materials must be pre-approved in advance.   Sometimes classes may also be cancelled due to lockdowns, attempted breakouts, riots or any other unusual circumstances in a 24 hour routine in a prison. 

“I can’t” was heard as “I am afraid to try.” Nothing negative or self defeating was allowed in the classroom. Criticism was given without hurt or judgment.  And taking criticism was taught as a way to hear and respect the differences of others.  They learned that each of them is different, with different thoughts, experiences and expressions.  Through their art, they leaned to respect this in themselves and in the others. 

These men have made use of the time they have   Drawing is a way for them to  escape the boredom, frustrations and emotions within them.  Many have never drawn until prison.  What comes out of their efforts is memorable and speaks volumes of their talent and their determination to learn.  I am proud of these men. I am proud of what they have learned, how hard they have worked, and how they have come to believe in themselves.  I am thankful for what they have taught me in return.  



Updated 19 November 2008. Comments to the Library Web Team.

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