Blank canvas: Art program gives shelter residents reality break

Published 12:10 am Sunday, June 25, 2023

SALISBURY — The routines of life can be particularly challenging for the residents at the Rowan Helping Ministries shelter, so any break during the day is a welcome one.

Partnering with Waterworks Visual Arts Center, Rowan Helping Ministries established an eight-week art program for residents to explore their creative sides and to take a step back from the stressors of everyday life.

“The class was a method for people at the shelter to come and forget about life for a couple of hours,” instructor Cindy Morgan said. “It was so uplifting to see them be able to forget about trying to figure out a place to live or find a job and to just be present in the moment.”

Morgan was an art teacher in area schools for years, so she knows a thing or two about instruction and unlocking students’ creativity.

“With just a little bit of encouragement, they really took off,” Morgan said. “Some of them were like, well, I can’t draw. Well, you don’t have to draw, you can do some paint, or we made wire sculptures.”

Some of the artists created tributes for loved ones.

“There was a young woman with a brain injury who made several things to honor her brother, who had passed in an unfortunate skirmish,” Morgan said.

While Morgan held courses on the first and third Friday of each month, attendance was up and down.

“It’s such a transient thing that you don’t know who is coming one week to the next,” Morgan said. “I just kind of planned to have something different every week. We started with some markers. We did some collage work. We did paint. We did wire sculptures. If I had someone who said I would really like to paint, then the next class, I would make sure we had paint.”

Morgan estimated they had as many as nine participants during the most attended class. The participants ranged from teenagers to artists in their 50s.

On Tuesday, Waterworks and Rowan Helping Ministries hosted a reception on the second floor of the downtown business. Guests were invited to come, peruse the art, and purchase a piece, or 10, if they wanted.

One of the artists, Riley Bagwell, can now say that he is a professional artist after his work, entitled ‘Dog,’ sold at an exhibit.

“I was just doodling,” Bagwell said. “I was getting ready to paint another picture, and it just kind of came together.”

The painting sold for $20, all of which went to Bagwell.

“It made me feel good,” Bagwell said. “I couldn’t believe somebody bought a painting from me. It was very exciting for me.”

Bagwell is not from Salisbury. He was stranded in Lexington last year on his way to Boone for a job. He quickly ran out of money and didn’t have a place to stay. A church group agreed to buy Bagwell a bus ticket, but he missed the departure.

Unsure of what to do next, Bagwell saw a running vehicle and thought it might be his only shot at trying to get back to South Carolina.

He was apprehended and jailed for motor-vehicle theft. The conditions for his paroled release involved finding a place to live. Rowan Helping Ministries turned out to be that place.

Now he is looking for full-time residence and a job. Unfortunately for Bagwell, a severe bout of pneumonia brought on by complications from the flu left him unable to work.

Having the art class as an outlet proved beneficial for Bagwell.

“I enjoyed the class,” Bagwell said. “It was something different from my everyday routine. It was a big stress reliever.

“I am just trying to find employment and get on my feet. I put some applications in for housing here at Rowan Helping Ministries. These people have been a godsend.”

Bagwell just wants people to see him and not his past. He hopes his latest foray into artistry can help with that.

“My record doesn’t reflect who I am,” Bagwell said. “I am not a bad person. I have just made some bad mistakes in life.”

Any baggage the residents at Rowan Helping Ministries had was left at the door so that creativity could be front and center, which led to several art pieces being sold on Tuesday. Jennifer Davis was among the guests at the art show looking to expand their art collection.

“I came down to spend time at the reception for the exhibit and to purchase some art that I am familiar with,” Davis said. “I know the artist. He is a wonderful, wonderful artistic man.”

The artist was Bryant Gilchrist, who had two pieces submitted to the exhibit. One of those pieces was entitled ‘Somewhere.’

“I love it because of the name,” Morgan said. “It says a lot and is vague at the same time, so you can put your mind anywhere. Wherever you want to be is that somewhere. That stuck out to me.”

Gilchrist’s other piece was entitled ‘Soft Landing.’

“His painting Somewhere is vague (and about) where he is in life,” Davis said. “His other artwork is called “Soft Landing.” If we move on over here, eventually, there will be a soft landing. It’s predicted. It’s predestined. People are not confined by their situation or their surroundings.”