Reflections From A Gated Community: Art from Ohio Inmates
Experience a rare glimpse of secluded lives with a new exhibit, Reflections from a Gated Community: Art from Ohio Inmates. This month-long show at High Road Gallery & Studios in Worthington features the work of 30 inmates from the Ohio Women’s Reformatory and Marion Correctional Facility.
In the Worthington gallery setting, a wall of 10″ square frames covered in polymer clay designs confronts the viewer with an apology or a call for reconciliation, a cry of innocence or an expression of love, longing and hope. In the center of each frame a small mirror reflects the viewer. Titles and quotes from the artists provide more clues to meaning. “Art is an escape – a way for me to vent, express my feelings or just feel free for a while,” said one inmate artist.
Art provides inmates a safe place to express themselves, push beyond prison social boundaries and strengthen their connections with others.
Because of who they are, how they live, and their histories of poverty, abuse, and violence, many inmate artists demonstrate extraordinary vision. No matter how restrictive, oppressive, and humiliating their lives have been, they often prove to themselves through art that they are creative and capable of acting out of their higher impulses and that transformation is possible.
Polymer clay (commonly known as FIMO or Sculpey) is a responsive, expressive, easy sculptural material that can be worked with few tools and cured in a toaster oven. Well known polymer artists have traveled to Central Ohio from around the country to teach the inmates. Weekly classes from local artists Suanne Goings, Jackie Burns and Cynthia Tinapple give them good foundational skills. In weekly classes the inmates quickly discovered the huge rewards that come from working with their hands, making jewelry and gifts.
The inmates started working with polymer clay through the Kindway offender reentry program that works with men and women returning to Central Ohio. Participants receive guidance and support as they navigate their journey from incarceration to independence. They use the arts to develop the self esteem and positive attitude vital for successful reentry.
Some inmates nearing release can work every day on polymer art, producing jewelry that is sold through Kindway volunteers at crafts fairs. The money is plowed back into the program. Their bracelets, pendants and pens will be available at High Road Gallery during December.
Worthington resident Cynthia Tinapple, a well known polymer blogger and author, is curating the exhibit with materials support from polymer manufacturer, Polyform Products in Elk Grove Village, IL. Her husband, woodworker Blair Davis created the wooden frames that form the bases of the art.
Kindware project manager Jackie Burns spent 18 years as a prison guard and staff administrator before attending seminary. She was assigned as a deacon at Worthington’s St. Johns Episcopal Church in 2008. ”When we work together creatively we can look past brokenness and speak to the good,” says Jackie.
The inmates smile wryly as they refer to their “gated community” which they know is significantly more harsh and restrictive than gated Worthington communities. Still, in many ways the dilemmas they reveal in their art are ones we all share.