Friends Gallery: Art from Grafton Prison

Currently on exhibit, in Kendal’s Friends Gallery, are the paintings and three-dimensional art of incarcerated participants in The Arts and Crafts Program at Grafton Correctional Institute and Grafton Reintegration Center. A reception for the exhibition of Prisoner Art from Grafton will be held at 2 p.m. on Thursday, Feb 25th, in the Friends Corner Dining Room at Kendal. The presentation and conversation about the program and the exhibition will feature both Eric Gardenhire and one of the artists from the prison who has community privileges. The exhibit runs through April 4th.

Materials, used in the creation of this art, are either paid for by the artists (paints), or found and recycled items such as discarded cardboard. The cardboard is sized, painted and used as frames, which are also works of art.

You are inside, but your art work doesn’s have to be.

“You are inside, but your art work doesn’t have to be,” Eric Gardenhire tells participants. Eric was hired two and a half years ago to create and direct an Arts and Crafts Program at Grafton Correctional Institute and Grafton Reintegration Center.

Art can change the people who create it, the people who see it, and sometimes relationships, too. Making gifts of their art for the holidays or special occasions is gratifying to many participants. One man heard from the son he had no contact with since his incarceration, when the boy was ten years old. After the young man, now in his twenties, saw a painting his father had sent home to his mother, he contacted him.

Classes at the prison include drawing, design, painting and more.

Less than three years old, the Arts and Crafts Program currently involves over 200 men who take classes in drawing, design, painting, woodworking, ceramics-even jewelry making. Classes accommodate both beginners and advanced learners. Many of the teachers are inmates themselves, who find satisfaction not only in creating art but also in sharing their skills with others.

Some of the participants in the Arts and Crafts Program at Grafton prison also perform with the Oberlin Drama at Grafton (ODAG) Program, created and directed by Oberlin Professor Emerita Phyllis Gorfain. Kendal residents have attended performances, of The Tempest or Othello, or both, at Grafton, by this remarkable group.

A primary goal of the Art Committee at Grafton is to create more opportunities to exhibit the work of Grafton artists on the outside. The first such exhibit took place last fall at a church on the west side of Cleveland, and Kendal at Oberlin has the honor of serving as the second such venue.