Their grief sways between heartbreak and humor.
“Children want healing,” said Krista Ball, child grief specialist with the Highmark Caring Place. “They share their stories with us. They open up and talk to us about what’s going on, and other times we’re just laughing and playing and having fun together. It could be something as simple as a finger painting, but for them, there’s so much meaning.”
The Sweetwater Center for the Arts will unveil a first-of-its-kind exhibition this weekend dubbed "A Journey Through Grief: Artwork by the Children of the Highmark Caring Place." The show opens with a reception Saturday from 5 to 7 p.m. and runs through Sept. 18. Entrance to Sweetwater is always free and open to the public.
“We’re just so excited to be able to present their work,” said Sweetwater marketing and development coordinator Nichole Remmert. “These kids don’t have a lot of chances for their art to be put up on a permanent basis – it kind of goes up and comes down – and there’s so much to learn from it. So it’s not just a great opportunity for the kids to have their work displayed. It’s also an opportunity for people to learn through these projects that these kids have done.”
The Caring Place provides peer support groups, referral services, adult telephone support and educational programs and resources for grieving children and families in four Pennsylvania facilities and online. Their consultation services, educational presentations and resources are available for schools and other professionals in the community who work with children.
All services provided by the Caring Place are provided at no cost, but presenting children’s artwork, Ball said, is an inaugural feat.
Finger paintings, quilts, pillows, memory boxes, poetry, acrylics, textiles, three-dimensional pieces and two-sided masks are organized into sections: feelings, memories, making meaning, support, creating a new self-identity and the history of the Caring Place logo.
Every child who wished to participate is represented at the month-long show. Participants range in age from 21 months to 18 years, Ball said.
Remmert said finding a home for all 100 pieces was a challenge for the small gallery.
"We didn't in any way want it to be a judgement of (their) art,” Ball said. “Your expression is what it is and we believe that every expression that a child makes is valuable and means something to them in their grief journey."
Remmert said installation wraps up Friday.
“I think that it speaks to not just children who have lost somebody but to lots of us who have lost someone close to us,” she said.
Sweetwater Center for the Arts hosts frequent community fine arts and crafts classes and forums, bringing the principles of art to area kids and adults. That the same art could “can be therapeutic and a mechanism to teach us about ourselves" fits perfectly with their mission, Executive Director Michelle Peters said.