‘Women of Mass Construction,’ Alexis & Kelsey

11″ x 14″ oil on masonite board.
See all artwork available for sale.

Gallery caption:

Alexis and Kelsey, Court Appointed Special Advocates of Jefferson County
The Court Appointed Special Advocates program provides training and support to volunteer advocates who serve as a voice in court for the best interests of abused and/or neglected children through the jurisdiction of the Family Court.

These two beautiful girls played with new Easter bunnies while I listening to their grandparents tell their heart-breaking story. The toddlers’ parents’ rights were terminated by a judge due to their drug addiction. Their CASA volunteer, Robin, played a critical role ensuring the girls’ case was given thorough attention and that they were placed in a loving home. Alexis and Kelsey now live with their grandparents, who tell me “there should be more people like Ms. Robin. She should be a judge in family court.”

Quote in the painting from the girls’ grandparents:

They would have taken from place to place. We probably wouldn’t have ever seen them again.

Portrait by portrait

Now that the “Women of Mass Construction’ exhibit has come down, (and I’ve finally gotten great shoots of each of the portraits) I’m going to feature each woman one-by-one. Consider this your own private, virtual gallery tour. These women certainly deserve the spotlight.

I suppose the best place to start is with my artist’s statement:

“I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.” -Rabindranath Tagore

My life long interest in art-making came to a rather dismal place three years ago when it struck me that art for art’s sake wasn’t enough anymore. At the same time I was beginning to really engage myself in the Louisville community through volunteer work. Through a process as natural as breathing, I soon reignited my love for painting with new meaning: illustrating my developing interest in social issues on canvas.

Soon I launched ashleycecil.com (‘the Painting Activist’), a personal online journal of my artwork related to activism. That initiative blossomed into a multitude of full-time opportunities to share my art for service orientated causes. One such result of this new focus was the idea for a series of celebratory portraits of women who had been touched by a charitable organization.

Art highlighting social and political leaders is abundant. However, the work of these social justice pioneers is rarely expressed through art portraying individuals they impacted. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to meet so many amazing people as a “painting activist,” and through this series I’m honored to introduce you to a handful of them.

With the generous help of many colleagues in our nonprofit community, I have been connected with the beautiful women in this series. Each has shared with me an intimate story, all with endings of positive and pivotal change aided by the services they received from their respective charitable organization.

These women have encouraged me, reminded me not to take life for granted, and reinforced that the most sacred aspects of life are the relationships we foster and nourish. I left every interview feeling that no obstacle in life was insurmountable and that my own seemingly unbearable problems were dwindled to petty inconveniences. I’m incredibly grateful to have crossed paths with and be touched by each of them.

Ashley Cecil

This project is made possible in part with funding from the Kentucky Foundation for Women.

A phenomenally successful opening

I decided that since I was going to be on my feet all night at last Friday’s ‘Women of Mass Construction‘ opening, that I wouldn’t go to the gallery until 5pm on the dot. I was about 5 minutes late and expected to be one of the first people there. It turns out I had already missed some gallery guests and was greeted by a full house. It felt like a surprise party. Between 5 and 9pm, I think there was one 10 minute span where fewer than 3 people were in my section of the gallery.

Many of the portrait subjects were there with friends, family and staff members from their respective nonprofit organization. I wish I had had more time to introduce them, but the steady flow of traffic made it pretty difficult. Nonetheless, I feel like the women really appreciated that so many people came to see the artwork about them and their stories. Thanks to those of you who came to support us!

Events like this always draw some of my favorite people, like my high school photography teacher, Mr. (Dave) Runge (who apparently biked to the gallery). I love being surprised by who I see at my art related events. It’s like Christmas with human gifts.

If you missed us on Friday, the show will be up through August at Gallery NuLu. A percentage of portrait sales will be donated to the Women’s Second Chance College Scholarship Fund. Donations to the scholarship fund will also be collected during the exhibit. Bring a friend and check it out.

‘Women of Mass Construction’

The content of this website has consisted of very work-in-progress orientated postings for the past several months. There is a very straight-forward explanation for this: I’ve been exclusively working on a series of portraits titled, “Women of Mass Construction.”

Starting in January of this year, I began interviewing 15 women and girls who are current or former clients of a Kentucky nonprofit that has helped them make a positive transformation in their lives. After collecting their stories and photos, I started on creating the 12 portraits (3 paintings include 2 people). The organizations tied to these phenomenal women include:

I left every interview believing anything was possible. My own personal woes immediately became proverbial drops in the bucket; not worth another thought. How can car maintenance and family drama compare to trying to find employment when you hardly speak English, and have spent the last 2 years of your life in a refugee camp, displaced from you home country? Or getting back on your feet after leaving a relationship, spanning the length of your adult life, with a man who nearly killed you multiple times during regular bouts of domestic violence? Talk about putting things into perspective.

What I’m really excited about is introducing the portrait subjects to each other at the exhibit opening at Gallery NuLu on Friday, August 1st, 5-9pm. Since the portraits won’t fill the gallery space, I invited local photographer Sarah Lyon to exhibit with me. In combination with Sarah’s supporters, this opening is going to be amazing!

In the spirit of honoring women in this community who are turning corners, donations from gallery guests, and a portion of my gallery sales, will be given to the Women’s Second Chance College Scholarship Fund.

I hope to see you at the opening to celebrate these 15 women’s success stories. It’s been an honor meeting each of them, and I hope you can do the same on August 1st. If you’re not in this area (or otherwise cannot make it to the gallery) and you would like to contribute to the donation made at the end of the exhibit, shoot me an email at ashley.cecil(at)gmail.com.

Painting in progress, 5.19.08

This is one of my 12 interviewees for the portrait series of female clients of Kentucky nonprofits (clearly, I’m still working on a title, and ideas are welcome).   Exhibit A is a former client of the Center for Women and Families (where I just wrapped up a community art project).

Quote for Martin Luther King Day

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

’08 portrait project of KY women and nonprofits that served them

8″ x 10″ oil on canvas

Here’s a bit of exciting news about 2008: I was recently awarded a grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women to complete a unique series of portraits in the first half of the year. I’m making arrangements to travel throughout the state of Kentucky to interview and photograph my female painting subjects, each of whom has a powerful story of positive life transformation.   The women/girls are being introduced to me through the nonprofit organization that played an integral in part their turnaround.

The completed series of paintings will be on exhibit and for sale at Gallery NuLu in Louisville in the summer of 2008 in honor of the successes of these women and the organizations that served them. Information about each charitable organization will be available for gallery visitors below each corresponding painting.   And I hope several of the portrait subjects will be able to attend the opening to enrich the experience.  

Pending successful sales during the exhibit, a small scholarship will be awarded to a woman/girl pursuing her post secondary education at a Kentucky school.   My regular blog followers will of course hear more about the exhibit and the paintings as the project gets underway.

Please feel free to nominate an individual or organization for the project by using “Suggest a Lead” or “Contact” in the sidebar.   Any portrait subjects must be:

  • a female Kentucky resident
  • able to disclose their identity and story to the public
  • comfortable with the painting being sold

I look forward to hearing your suggestions.   Have a Happy New Year!

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Through multiple meetings with the incredibly energizing CEO of the Center for Women and Families, Denise Vazquez Troutman, I have been introduced to several sobering realities of domestic violence. Earlier this year Denise gave me a tour of the CWF main office, which includes both administrative offices and residential spaces for their clients. While we walked the Center’s halls I heard the story of her unconventional and self-designed first several months at CWF, which included working at the receiving desk where women in crisis call or come to the Center seeking protection and aid. A corporate background left Denise shocked as she learning first-hand the diverse reach of domestic abuse. Women suffering from domestic violence fall into no singular category. Victims are beaten and thrown onto laminate and marble floors alike. No specific age, race, religion, or education seems to ward off the abuse. Organizations like CWF assist these women and their children in breaking away from their dangerous relationships and establishing a healthy stable life.

The Center for Women and Families has posted a calendar of events related to this month of awareness. Click here to view the activities. If you’re not in Louisville, here are 2 national resources for you find a way to get engaged:

Direct link to YouTube clip

Portraits coalescing youth worlds away

portrait painting of Bennett Morris portrait painting of Gray Morris
24″ x 30″ oil paintings on canvas
See all artwork available for sale.

Rummaging through my digital archive of paintings, I came across these fairly recent private commission portraits that shook loose from my memory an organization I’ve been attempting to collaborate with. Months ago I sifted through online information on youth and art focused nonprofits, and discovered the Memory Project. The concept, which came about after founder, Ben Schumaker, volunteered for one month at an orphanage in Guatemala, is a brilliant interlacing of high school art curricula with orphaned children in third world countries. High school art students are given photos of an orphan and create a portrait of that child, which is turned over to the Memory Project and then delivered to the orphanage. Correspondence between the portrait subject and the student is established creating obvious unique opportunities for both individuals.

Few of these children who have been abused, abandoned, or for some other reason are without a family, posses any items reminding them of their past or identity. We take for granted things as simple as photographs of ourselves with loved ones and other sentimental knickknacks. The portraits give the orphans a sense of self that they can reflect on as they grow older, which will also remind them that someone cared enough to create it. Of course, this is also incredibly rewarding for the high school student as well. Opportunities such as this truly broaden the horizons for kids at a time when their world is narrowly self-focused.

This is such a powerful and fulling project for any high school art class I recommend you pass the word onto to teachers you know that would like to implement the portraits in their school. They can visit www.thememoryproject.org and click on “get involved.”

I hope to possibly post some of the portraits that will come of this school year on my blog if I can connect with teachers incorporating the Memory Project into their curriculum.

Ps – Click here to watch a CBS news segment on The Memory Project.

Teaching what I do best

8″ x 10″ oil on masonite
Not for sale.
See all artwork available for sale.

Last fall, I was a guest artist at a Houston community center for ArtBridge. The nonprofit organization offers art programs to homeless children as a much needed emotional outlet. I was given free reign and decided to have the children replicate what I do, with an emphasis on portraiture. My explanation to them of my work went something like this:

“I paint people doing good things. Sometimes their work is very hard (ie CASA) and it can make them sad. Then sometimes they get to do things that make them very happy. I make art of all of it.”

The objective was to have them take the opportunity to embrace whatever emotions they were experiencing and capture it in a portrait. Attention spans were short and I may not inspired any Van Goghs, but we had fun and let off some steam. I think I got the most out of the lesson by being reminded, once again, that in spite of what hardships people face, they can be surprisingly happy. Huge smiles were in abundance.

This portrait is clearly one of my happy expressions. I love painting people I love, so creating this piece was as great as sand between my toes (a good thing for me) or chocolate cake. I hope that my one time instruction helped the disadvantaged children realize the power of artistic expression. This is powerful stuff!

I will soon be formally announcing an opportunity I’ve been afforded that takes my ArtBridge experience to a whole new level. I’m incredibly excited, but you’ll have to wait to hear about it until I get approval from the powers that be.

Spreading the goodwill, from an artist to an advocate

8″ x 10″ oil on canvas
See all artwork available for sale.

I’m always surprised to see how people respond to each of my artworks. Evidently, I’m not very good at estimating which of my paintings will be favorites. This sketch got great reviews and one of my clients asked to buy it, even though I don’t typically sell drawings out of my personal sketchbook. Then I got an email asking if I would make a painting of the image, and voila!

The request for this painting came from a friend, Jardana Peacock, who has been good news for me since day one. Jardana contacted me months ago to ask if I would submit a few paintings for a civil rights focused art exhibit in Lexington, Kentucky sponsored by Open Ground. Not only do I love that she follows my work and emails me about events of interest for my blog, I’m also inspired by her professional commitment to activism. Jardana is a graduate student in the Pan-African studies program at the University of Louisville, and a graduate assistant for the Anne Braden Institute for Social Justice Research.

Louisville is proud to claim Anne Braden as a resident since she was a pioneer in white leadership during and after the civil rights movement. The research institute named in her honor is an asset to this community in continuing Braden’s work of advocating for social justice (the institute’s next event will be to host a lecture given by NAACP chairman, Julian Bond, on April 4th).

Jardana was especially drawn to Braden’s work, evident in her confession that, “I am an activist because of Anne, I moved to Louisville because of Anne. I know that one person makes a difference because one life affects one which then affects others… Anne Braden said, “Part of the direction your life goes in is simply an accident of whom you meet at a certain time.” (taken from Anne Braden’s biography, Subversive Southerner by Cate Fosl).” Ashley is one of the MANY beautiful/conscious-building/revolutionaries I have met in Louisville and for this I am forever changed.”

Thank you so much Jardana! I hope you enjoy the painting.


Remembering Martin Luther King Jr.

6″ x 9″ watercolor, $70 ($10 donated to The King Center, FYI, the link to this site has automatic audio)
See all paintings available for sale.

I hope you have found time in your day for reflection on the meaning of this holiday. If it isn’t moving to you, I can only imagine there much more for you to know about the life of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Right Movement. This morning, I read a story on Seth Godin’s blog about the disappointing lack of recognition this day receives.

The FedEx woman stopped by my office on Friday. She wanted to know if we were going to be open on Monday.

I explained that our hours really never make sense, but that my team and I would be thinking of Dr. King and his work all day, regardless of what we were doing.

She sighed deeply and said, “Every year, we’re supposed to ask if offices are going to be open, and last year it made me so sad, I had to stop asking. I even got written up for not doing it.” It turns out that most people either said, “what holiday?” or “oh, we don’t celebrate that…”

So in honoring King, here are few things about the man you may not know, which speak to his excellence and success:

  • King received his BA in sociology from Morehouse College at age 19
  • In 1955-1956 he led a successful effort to desegregate Montgomery, Alabama, buses
  • In 1964, King became the first black American to be honored as Time magazine’s Man of the Year.
  • In 1965, King organized a mass march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, that created national support for federal voting-rights legislation
  • At the age of thirty-five, Martin Luther King, Jr., was the youngest man to have received the Nobel Peace Prize. When notified of his selection, he announced that he would turn over the prize money of $54,123 to the furtherance of the civil rights movement.
  • Delivered to over 200,000 civil rights supporters, King’s “I have a dream” speech was ranked the top American speech of the 20th century by a 1999 poll of scholars of public address.

It certainly makes me feel that regardless of how hard I think I work to make this world a better place, I’m not trying and doing nearly enough. Will I look back on my life and think that my efforts and contributions were as honorable as King’s? This day is meant to stir such questions, and I hope similar introspection has found its way into your thoughts.

A transitional home for “advanced recovering alcoholics”

8″ x 11″ oil on canvas, $200 ($50 donated to Hotel California, transitional living facility).

See all paintings available for sale.

Somewhere in between rock bottom and self-sufficient, recovering alcoholics have a place to get their bearings at “Hotel California.” The small transitional living facility can assist up to fourteen men who have pushed their friends and family away with their addiction, crashed, burned, then made a turn, gone through detox, attended AA meetings, completed extensive rehab programs and are now flirting with attainment of a full recovery. You might call them “advanced recovering alcoholics.” Shortly after leaving a traditional live-in, 12 step program many find themselves very susceptible to falling prey to their demons. The learning curve seems harsh. For those that know the ropes and are determined to win the fight, a place like Hotel California is an ideal place to take a breath, take comfort in a professional support system, and take advantage of social services such as job placement.

Although requirements of the residents to stay at the facility are less rigid than traditional half-way houses, these men still must participate in classes, complete homework, check in with counselors, volunteer for the organization, and abide by a curfew. I took the picture above of a board in the common area where meetings are held. Clearly the counselors encourage the residents to focus on developing characteristics that were checked at the bar door.

Hotel California, which opened its doors in June of 2005, nearly always has a warm body in each bed. The facility was mellow and calm the rainy morning I was there. Appartently many were at work. I did sit and talk with three gentlemen who laughed at their awkward behavior as they tried to “forget about the camera.” We chatted about what other facilities they had lived in and how this one compared. Their situations were across the board, but all seemed very content to be where they were. I hope they find encouragement in that they are in a community that is closer to freedom from their addiction.

Technorati tags: , , , , , ,

Bill Clinton helps Kentucky Democrats

8″ x 10″ oil on canvas, $200 ($50 donated to CASA)
See all paintings available for sale.

Bill Clinton spoke last night to a sea of Kentuckians who, fortunately for the democratic candidates, came with fat wallets. I met a fellow blogger in the press area who devotes his time to politically geared vlogging, when most men his age would be fishing with grandchildren. I was inspired by his devotion to citizen journalism and truly impressed by his tech savvy. He video records events, such as this, in extended versions to supplement the short snippets fed to us by TV media. He and I both were curiously glared at by reporters and camera crews wondering, “how did they get press passes?” Times are changing.

Prior to Clinton’s talk, the event was a crash course in 2006 democratic candidates 101. The massive audience cheered to “Are you ready for change?!” from various speakers like high schoolers at a pep rally. The enthusiasm was strong and all ears were attentive to the election issues. A few of the speakers included Jerry Abramson (Louisville Mayor), Jerry Lundergan (Kentucky Democratic Chairman), and John Yarmuth (Ky Democratic candidate for US Congress).

In addition to attending this unique event, I also finally answered a question plaguing my mind for years. Estimated from the number of mouths moving during the singalong to “My Old Kentucky Home”, I would guess that just over 50% percent of well educated Kentucky residents know the lyrics to the state song (or maybe some just don’t like singing anywhere but their own shower). Odds are in your favor for being able to join in on the Stephen Fosters number if you are 60 years of age and up. Now I don’t feel so shamed by staring at my feet at derby while those around me bellow mint-julep-intensified lyrics.