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Painting with a purpose

There’s nothing light about the Family Nurturing Center’s purpose, which is stated in big letters near the top of the community-based nonprofit’s “who are we” webpage.

Its goal is to “prevent child abuse and neglect.”

Just because many of the families that seek out the FNC’s services are in crisis, however, doesn’t mean the building’s facade must reflect the serious business that goes on inside. Now, thanks to some Ashland High School students, the FNC building in Medford will look at least a little more inviting, especially for its youngest visitors.

Members of the National Art Honors Society Club at Ashland High for the past four months have been working on a four-panel painting that, once completed, will adorn the fence that surrounds a portion of the FNC property on the corner of Oakdale Avenue and West 5th Street in Medford.

Painted on four 2- by 4-foot wood panels, the creations illustrate the metamorphosis of a butterfly. The students painted with bright colors to emphasize the changing of the seasons as well as the butterfly’s transformation, a theme that resonates within an organization whose mission is, in part, to provide “a blend of intensive support and interventions to break the patterns of abuse and neglect.”

There are about 30 students in Ashland High’s National Art Honors Society club, and about eight have worked diligently on the project since January, according to fine arts teacher and art honors society advisor Sam Scharf. The panels are expected to be completed within a week, after which they will be mounted permanently on the wooden fence near the Family Nurturing Center’s entryway.

The art club was searching for a project to take on when Rebekah McAnally, who is on the FNC board of directors, approached Ashland High junior and art club member Max Morrish with the idea. McAnally, who is also the neighbor of another art club member, junior Kate Joss-Bradley, told Morrish and Joss-Bradley that the building could use some art work to help lighten it up.

Morrish and Joss-Bradley thought it was a great idea, as did the rest of the art club, and, after considering a few possibilities, including a mural, they decided painting four panels would be both meaningful and realistic given the timeframe.

“(McAnally) told me that they were kind of searching for some art and some color around their campus,” Morris said. “So that immediately kind of struck a chord as a perfect job for the National Art Honors Society because artists often tend to be individuals with their art and uniting collectively and making a project together is often difficult but super rewarding. And because there’s so much talent in the club it’s a really amazing process to see artists unite and make a big project like this.”

Joss-Bradley agreed, adding that working with the Family Nurturing Center made the project extra special for her.

“It’s not very well known,” she said of the Family Nurturing Center. “It’s such an asset to the community, but it doesn’t receive a lot of recognition or funding, so being able to provide something along the lines of growing it, even just artistically, and making it a more beautiful, accepting place for these kids who don’t work well academically in regular school settings, it’s a really sweet opportunity and it’s a really sweet collaboration.”

According to Scharf, every fall the art club starts to talk about which projects it will take on during the school year — art shows and fundraisers are usually in the fold. But, says Scharf, the club last fall talked about the possibility of taking on more service-oriented projects.

The challenge, then, was finding one with a need that the art club could fulfill.

“And so the idea maybe formed then,” Scharf said, “but we weren’t sure what that would look like. And then sometime in the winter (Morrish) and (Joss-Bradley) approached me with this project and said they knew somebody from the Family Nurturing Center … and that they were looking for a mural or something to kind of liven up their space.”

McAnally was then invited to speak to the club over a lunch period, during which she told the students about her vision, which includes a large mural to decorate the side of the building. By the time the project was a go, there wasn’t enough time for the students to complete a mural of that size — they had until the end of the school year — so they decided instead to paint the panels.

McAnally came up with the butterfly theme and the art students took it from there, eventually deciding to paint a four-stage growth from caterpillar to butterfly. When the paintings are completed, they’ll be weatherproofed and delivered to the center. Morrish plans on being there to help with the installation.

“We’ve done other projects before,” he said, “but this I would say is the biggest.”

The tentative plan, Scharf says, is for the art club to take on the mural next school year. It would be a huge time investment, he said, but well worth it.

“In a big sense what we’re doing is not nearly as important as what they’re doing,” Scharf said, “but we’re really excited to be able to add something to their space that brightens it up and brings a little joy hopefully to the kids as they walk in and leave every day.

“Anytime I can get student artwork out into the community and art in general out into the community and at businesses it’s really positive for everybody, I think. So I love it. I think this is exactly the type of thing that I would like this group of students to be able to do.”

Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@dailytidings.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.