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Inmate Art Exhibit Explored Loss, Grief
Date: November 04, 2015 09:44AM

Inmate Art Exhibit Explored Loss, Grief

UW-Sheboygan Gallery Director Dan Smith, LTC Instructor Sharon Abel, more than 30 Sheboygan County Detention Center inmates and some local professional artists joined to create an exhibit that was on display from September 3 through October 30 at the University of Wisconsin-Sheboygan Fine Arts Gallery. The exhibit, "Loss and Grief: Featuring Drawings from Local Inmates," focused on the artists’ personal interpretation of the theme.

Gallery Director Dan Smith described the exhibit as "art with a social conscience." Instructor Sharon Abel added the observation, “Through art, the inmates communicate their humanity and spirituality.”

Kali Thiel, a Sheboygan Press Media reporter interviewed two of the participating artists for the following article that appeared on in the Sheboygan Press on September 12, 2015:

It took getting locked up for Thomas Glasgow Jr. to find freedom. It's not the kind of freedom that allows him to run to the store whenever he wants or spend a Friday evening enjoying a good meal with close friends — he has none of those types of luxuries at the moment.

Instead, the 28-year-old's freedom is a mental release, which he said he found in 2008 when he took up drawing during a stint in prison. Now serving a sentence in jail at the Sheboygan County Detention Center, Glasgow continues to find release through drawing. "I just love everything about art," he said. "It was an escape — a way for me to vent, express my feelings, just get lost in thought."

One of Glasgow's drawings, along with drawings done by more than 30 other local inmates and some from non-incarcerated, professional artists, was on display from September 3 through October 30 at the University of Wisconsin-Sheboygan Fine Arts Gallery.

'Loss and grief'

The exhibit was called "Loss and Grief: Featuring Drawings from Local Inmates," and all drawings in the exhibit focused on the theme, in whatever way the artists chose to interpret it.

Glasgow says his drawing was inspired by the feelings of loss that came from a breakup with his girlfriend. It includes a face — half skull and half an image of his ex-girlfriend. Near it are praying hands with Psalm 34:18 written below, and curving around the hands are metal bars representing his imprisonment.

In his artist statement, Glasgow says, "We all have pain and eventually lose someone or something that means so much. I express my pain and loss of a person who meant the world to me, with pencil and paper." Below his words is the text of Psalm 34:18: "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit."

Another artist, Ricardo Hibbler, drew a piece inspired by his grandmother who passed away unexpectedly last Thanksgiving. "She was just an amazing woman," Hibbler said. "She has a very deep, everlasting impact on my life."

In his artist statement, Hibbler describes his grandmother as "caring," "positive," "influential" and "the backbone of our family, spiritual and true." "I miss her, but she’s in a better place with no pain, no suffering, and she's finally in the kingdom of God," Hibbler said.

Educating the community

The Loss and Grief exhibit was sponsored by Lake Shore Reentry, a volunteer organization whose goals are to engage in community outreach and to advocate for the needs of pre- and post-release inmates and their families and service providers.

“I think it helps to humanize the (incarcerated) population to see their artwork," said LSR Board Vice President Sharon Abel, who is also in her 25th year teaching adult basic skills education to inmates through her position at Lakeshore Technical College. "I’d prefer to be able to invite the community in to meet my students. This is a more efficient way to connect the communities.”

In addition to displaying inmates' artwork, a goal of the exhibit was to educate the public about resources available to those who are perhaps struggling with issues pertaining to the theme.

On Hibbler's artist statement card, for example, was listed details of the Cup of Hope grief support group through the Sharon S. Richardson Community Hospice.

“Inmates are neighbors before they are incarcerated and they are neighbors when they get released," Abel said. "This is a way for them to contribute and call attention to the vast array of resources available to those who are hurting.”

Glasgow won't have the privilege of seeing people's faces when they view his art. He's hoping his drawing will have a positive effect on them, though. "I hope people see the emotion and see the struggle that some of us go through in our lives and that we are all human, no matter what," Glasgow said. “I just really hope they see the pain and the struggle that I’m trying to get off my chest through this pencil and this paper.”

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