HCN News & Notes

Elms College to Host Presentation on Prison Art Therapy

CHICOPEE — The Elms College Center for Law and Justice will host a special presentation on prison art therapy from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 28, in the Alumnae Library Theater. The event is free and open to the public.

Cellblock Visions: Set Free in the Penitentiary, a talk by artist, author and educator Phyllis Kornfeld, will cover her long career in art therapy in America’s prisons. Kornfeld has worked closely with incarcerated men and women around the country for 33 years — in all levels of security, from county jail to maximum security to death row — providing the transformative experience of creating sincere and beautiful art. She is the author of “Cellblock Visions: Prison Art in America” (Princeton University Press), a surprising collection of artwork created behind bars.

“This will be an extraordinary event, in terms of changing the perceptions people have of incarcerated individuals,” said Kurt Ward, M.B.A., J.D., assistant professor and director of criminal justice and legal studies at Elms College.

Through art therapy, incarcerated people can overcome the challenges of their cramped spaces, poor lighting options and limited views. They use ingenious resourcefulness to create not only art but the very materials with which to product the artwork: They extract color from shampoo, make paint from M&Ms, and fashion sculptures from toilet paper. This lecture will discuss a wide range of artwork — from mainstream prison art, with its reliance on tattoo imagery, to “folk arts” like soap carving, and powerful drawings and paintings.

This presentation will include art pieces, quotes from the artists, and stories of Kornfeld’s experiences behind bars with the men and women who live there, offering evidence that people in prison have the same human potential for goodness and care as the rest of us.

Kornfeld has exhibited at Antioch College, Bucknell University, Lehigh University, Massachusetts College of Art, University of Arkansas, University of Massachusetts, and others. She has lectured at Brown University, Lesley University, Pratt Art Institute, Rice University, Rutgers University, Vassar College and many others.