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JJHS art students create portraits for Nigerian children

Advanced Jackson Junior High School art students were able to create portraits of under-resourced school children in Nigeria and have the portraits delivered to their subjects as part of the Memory Project. Around 3,500 portraits were delivered to Nigeria in February, 38 of which came from Jackson.

Students in Janienne Moore and Julie Kinnaman’s Art 1 classes participated in the project and finished the portraits in January. For most of the students, these were one of the first portraits they had ever created.

“Portraits are sometimes intimidating for a junior high kid, and these are fantastic for an eighth grade level,” Kinnaman said.

Moore added that the students rose to the occasion and were motivated to push themselves to give the Nigerian children great portraits. “They were willing to stay with it until it was right,” Moore said.

The teachers were sent pictures of the Nigerian children, and they let each Jackson student chose for whom they wanted to create a portrait.

“We talked about how these children don’t really have that many personal belongings, so we were creating something for them that they wouldn’t have probably gotten in their lifetime,” Moore said.

The students had to learn proportions to draw the face. Kinnaman said the students worked tirelessly to make sure everything was done correctly and asked for help when they got stuck. “They were not willing to send them to Nigeria unless they looked just like that child,” Kinnaman said.

To create the portrait’s background and replicate the children’s clothing, the students used scrapbooking paper to create a collage effect. The students then had to shade the paper to show the dimension of the children’s clothing.

The students were given the Nigerian children’s name, school grade and favorite color. Many of the students incorporated their favorite color in the background of the portrait.

“When we were done with project, we put our handprint on it so that we could touch hands from across the world,” Art 1 student Jaiden Myers said. She added that they were able to also write a short note to the Nigerian children with their handprint on the back of the artwork.

Isabelle Abt said it was cool to be able to send the children artwork from another country. “It was very fun to do,” Abt said. “It was a little bit stressful, but in the end it was worth it.”

Earlier this month, the classes were given a video of the portraits being delivered. Some of the students, like Tessa Quade, were able to see the Nigerian students see their portraits for the first time.

“I got to see him touching his hand to mine,” Quade said. “That’s an experience that not a lot of people are able to have. I got to communicate across the word, not necessarily through words, but I got to affect his life.”

Kinnaman said the project pushed her students to become better artists, as well as better people. “I feel like they counted their blessings, knowing where we are here at Jackson Junior High and knowing that there are children who are the same age as them in different situations,” she said. “I think this gave them a lot of perspective and because they had that personal connection, it has stayed with them.”

Jay Forness covers education, county government and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Jackson for the past five years. He can be reached at

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