CANTON The well-named Heart Gallery is a project that pairs local youth seeking adoption with local artists who paint their portraits.
The resulting artworks give awareness to Stark County’s adoption need while celebrating the kids’ personalities, spirit and resilience.
“I love getting to know the kids and getting to know their stories and knowing that I might be helping them to find that forever home,” said Christine Benner, who has been a Heart Gallery artist for seven years.
Artist Tim Carmany has participated in the Heart Gallery for four years.
“The first time got me hooked on it,” he said. “Meeting the kids was incredible and definitely life-changing. It opened my eyes to a need that I hadn’t seen before — local kids without permanent homes.”
The Heart Gallery, founded in 2011, is a program of the Children’s Services Division of Stark County Job & Family Services timed to coincide with National Adoption Month, which is November. The agency is actively recruiting adoption for 35 kids, ages 4 to 18, in Stark County.
“I think (the Heart Gallery) is an awesome way for us to tie in our local community and the talented artists we have and give another perspective of the kids we have in our care,” said Kenny Crookston, program administrator for the Adoptions and Family Resources Department. “It gives the kids an opportunity to experience having their portrait painted.”
A video spotlighting the 2017 Heart Gallery may be viewed on Youtube.com by searching 2017 Stark County Heart Gallery.
“As an artist, you get asked to donate things a lot, but this is the one project I want to make time for every year,” said Heather Bullach, in her third year of Heart Gallery participation. “It’s so directly impactful to these kids who need a lot. I think it’s a lot for the kids to participate in this, to put themselves out there as a public face.”
This year, Bullach did an oil painting of a 14-year-old boy named Tyler. “It’s really a lot of fun to meet the kids and get some specific things they’d like to see in their portrait,” she said. “He was very specific. He wore his Air Jordan shirt and his basketball shoes and he wanted them to be in the painting. He also thought it would be cool to have gold in the background so I did that.”
Tyler “was talkative, he was funny, he loves basketball,” Bullach said. “He said he wants to be a foster parent when he grows up.”
This year, Benner painted a double portrait of 15-year-old twin sisters McKayla and Mersades.
“They both like very different things,” Benner said. “One is creative and art-oriented and didn’t want to talk much. The other loves animals and wants to be a veterinarian and was very talkative. I could tell their bond is very strong.” Painting the twins, “I wanted to make sure they were the same but different.”
Carmany, who does reverse glass paintings on re-purposed windows, had to work from a single photograph of his subject, John, 17.
“I met him for the first time when I gave him his portrait,” Carmany said. “He’s a very outgoing guy, quick with a smile, quick with a response. He said (about the portrait), ‘Well, my hair’s different,’ but then he said he liked it. He was happy to be there and happy to have someone pay attention.”
Once the kids are adopted, they receive their portraits to keep.
The other artists participating in the 2017 Heart Gallery were Lynn Digby, Tim Eakin and Rita Woodruff.
For more information about adopting a child of foster parenting, visit www.starkjfs.org or call 330-451-8789.
Reach Dan Kane at 330-580-8306 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @dkaneREP