Prison artists add works to Braddock Carnegie’s art-lending library
A program at Braddock Carnegie Library showcases the creativity of artists whose work would otherwise go unseen.
The library’s Art Lending Program has hit the one-year mark and expanded their inventory, in addition to forming a partnership with inmates at SCI Fayette, who display their work at the library.
The Prism Project, initiated by State Correctional Institution-Fayette inmate Richard Guy and library clerk Mary Carey, will make work created by prisoner artists available for check out as part of the library’s art lending collection.
“I want the youth to see that if they have talent, they have to make sure they realize it and utilize it,” Carey says. “I’m hoping other libraries will catch on.”
Inmate work is displayed in the library’s main room and includes 25 pieces from 17 artists. Works range from portraits of famous faces, such as President John F. Kennedy and Bob Marley, to landscapes and abstract pieces.
Confinement is a common theme throughout, like Guy’s piece “Prison Time,” showing a watch with no face, and James Borough’s “Handmade,” a series of photocopied hands that appear to be trying to reach out from the canvas.
“Prison art has helped many inmates to create goals and to change from their old, undisciplined ways,” Guy writes in a letter sent to the Tribune-Review. “It’s a growth process. Numerous Prism Project artists have told me that art is a great way to learn about themselves and to grow in self-awareness by their self-expression through art. Art is a relief from the tension and friction of prison life.”
The idea for the Prism Project started when Guy, who is serving a life sentence for first-degree murder, read a Tribune-Review article about the library’s art-lending program when it first launched in late 2013 as a facet of the Carnegie International exhibit at the Carnegie Museum of Art.
The library and museum partnered with artist collaborative Transformazium to create the program, which lets library-card holders choose from more than 100 pieces of art to check out the same way they would books, movies or music.
The lending collection is made up of donations from private collections and original works of local artists. It is displayed in a designated space on the first floor of the library, a historic landmark that celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2014. Several Braddock businesses also display available pieces and direct people to the library to see more.
The program has a wide appeal, Carey says. Everyone from seniors who see art displayed in the lobby of their high-rise to art teachers who use the pieces to teach different themes are borrowing the works. About 15 pieces go out each month.
“It’s really become part of the organizational structure of the library,” says Dana Bishop-Root, Transformazium co-founder. “It’s part of what’s strong about the library, and the library is part of what’s strong about the program.”
The prisoner art pieces will be added to the lending collection by mid-February.
When Guy reached out to Carey to suggest a collaboration, he expressed frustration at the lack of artistic opportunities for the incarcerated. Rhonda House, SCI Fayette spokeswoman, says, while the institution does not have a formal art program, inmates do have access to colored pencils. Supplies like paint and poster board are acquired through outside purchases.
Prisoners get creative with items they find around their environment, too. One piece on display at the library depicts a wishing well made from spoons and toothpicks. Another is a jewelry box made entirely of folded pieces of paper sewn together. Some paint on portions of their bedsheets, as evident by the frayed edges of the canvases.
Regardless of what it’s made from, Guy hopes the artwork can make an impact on all who view it.
“Prison life isn’t a country club — it’s a hard, hard life, and prison art reflects that emotion in raw form,” he writes. “It reflects regrets, turning points, character traits and even dreams. But mostly, it’s about creating art that expresses how different prisoners are from the real world.”
Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or [email protected].