Shortly after 8 p.m. on Aug. 23, Allen Bostic Sr. stood behind the table that displayed his poems and sketches in the second-floor room of the Catonsville United Methodist Church on Melvin Avenue.
As he recited one of his poems, the dozen or so spectators and two other artists whose work was also on display stood in rapt attention as they listened, then applauded when he finished.
Sketches, poems and drawings filled the room and hors d'oeuvres were available to visitors.
But this wasn't a typical art show hosted by the church at 6 Melvin Ave.
The men whose work was being displayed — Bostic, Lewis Johnson and Mark Thomas — are residents of the Westside Men's Shelter.
The shelter, at 55 Wade Ave., offers a temporary home for a maximum of 120 homeless men.
The site also provides laundry services, beds, meals and nursing services.
"The guys are so neat. I just wanted to have something to showcase the guys and just let them connect with people," said Vicki McCormick, a Catonsville resident who organized the event and volunteers at the shelter. "Basically, that's what it is. To let them put themselves out and have a good night for them."
Even before he commanded the room's attention by reading one of his poems and singing, Bostic had already made himself vulnerable to the audience.
"Everything is based on my life, between being homeless and different events in my life that took place," said Bostic, 49, who has lived at the shelter for a year.
Asked why he likes displaying his work, Bostic said, "You're happy someone else can share your thoughts. Maybe it can help people relieve some stress (for them)."
He added, "If someone reads one of my poems, maybe they can one day pick up a pen and instead of doing harm they can do some good for themselves."
The audience showed its appreciation with more than applause. Bostic sold several of his poems for a total of $40, half of which he said he would donate to the church.
Writing poetry allows Bostic to "vent" the pressures he feels, he said.
"It's one way I can vent. I can relieve the stress of the world and have a positive mind," he said.
Bostic's view that art is more than just for decoration, that it can provide a release for the artist as well as help those who view it is shared by the other artists whose work was on display last week.
Johnson, 52, used colored pencil and ink to create portraits, landscapes and abstract work and had sold three by the end of the night.
A fan of the Baltimore Ravens, Johnson displayed a picture he made of a hand and a football with the numbers of two of his favorite players, running back Ray Rice and quarterback Joe Flacco.
Creating art is something Johnson has done as long as he can remember, he said, and it allows him to escape everyday pressures.
"Sometimes it takes me into another world, (I just) block things out," Johnson said. "I just do my thing, forget about everything and get into it."
As much as the creative process helps Johnson, he said he also enjoys displaying the work and seeing how it affects other people.
"It makes me feel like I make a difference," said Johnson, who has lived in the shelter for more than a year and hopes to move out soon.
Thomas, 52, a self-taught artist, displayed colored-pencil drawings of landscapes and abstract images, including one of a woman whose flowing black hair turned into the stem of a rose.
He converts some of his work into greeting cards.
While he too sold some of the copies of his works and received a favorable reaction from the crowd, Thomas said his work is meant for more than decoration.
"I try to inspire anybody else who has any skill," said Thomas, who said he forgoes watching television to concentrate on his craft. "I look at it this way. I'm uplifting people who need to be lifted so they can get their lives back.
"Look what I do. You can do it."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun