Baltimore County

Youth turn trash into treasure

Teens at the Children's Home in Catonsville say they are recycling their lives and using art to illustrate their journey.

After months of workshops where they turned the ordinary into objets d'art, they have put together an exhibit that will raise funds for the home's capital campaign. Faces – 2012, an evening of wine, art and jazz is set for Wednesday at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore.

Organizers promise "a compelling display of resident artwork showcasing hopes, dreams and talents." Fledgling artists chose recyclable items for their medium and gave new life to the cast-offs.

"This is about rebuilding lives and learning coping skills," said Gail Lee, director of development and art workshop organizer at the Children's Home, which will reach its century mark next year. "Many of our children have found that art helps them through the difficult times."

The home, which can serve about 80 residents, provides a haven for youth, ages 13 to 21, who have been abandoned, neglected, and in many cases, abused. They stay as long as 18 months before returning to family or foster care.

"We are an organization with a long history in this community," said Andre Cooper, director of the facility. "We know our kids didn't ask to be here, but we want them to want to be here, working on goals and plans for success. We are hoping they make the best choices for themselves."

Art has become a creative outlet for many and the thought of selling a piece at the auction to benefit the home has spurred much inspiration.

When Lee sent out an email blast asking for donations of usable discards for the auction, donors sent in enough material to keep the artists, who can only be identified by first name, in creative mode. A skateboard showed up in the donations and Lee knew 13-year-old Antwon could recreate it. He gave it a vintage look, painting a purple and black border and covering the surface with aging baseball cards.

Atiya, 17, loves art and has become the group's go-to consultant on color and style. She has been drawing for years, is rarely without a sketch pad and hopes to become an art therapist.

"Art is a coping skill for me," she said. "When I want to express my feelings, I draw."

The exhibit entries range from fanciful to practical. Tea Time takes a whimsical look at the mid-afternoon tradition. Chipped china cups, some with unmatched saucers, and battered cutlery speckled with bright colors, are glued to an old window frame, painted pale yellow.

One student turned a pie pan into a portrait with cheeks made from an egg crate. Another started with swimming goggles, enhanced the eyes with soda bottle caps and added a silly nose.

But, it's not all whimsy. There is much of the functional. A coat rack with hooks made from women's high heels offers a great way to hang jewelry, scarves and keys.

"We call it the healing shoe rack," said Lee.

A sturdy ottoman, covered in a trendy upholstery pattern, gives no hint of its innards. Christian, 14, wired nine, same-sized phone books together and added fabric. He was so pleased with the effort, he expects to make more, certain of an endless supply of material.

"It's really heavy," said Cooper. "Wherever you put it, it will stay there."

An old grill, found filled with cobwebs on the campus, has been refurbished into the perfect tailgate cooler on wheels. Shredded T-shirts have been tied into scarves. Cymbre, 18, added silver paint dots and beading to a blue scarf.

"I have so many creative thoughts and so much material to work with and express myself," she said.

Atiya painted a random array of tiny circles on a white scarf, pronouncing it the perfect accessory.

"Can I model it at the exhibit?" she asked.

The event raised $25,000 for the home last year, said Cooper, who has taken home at least one piece from every previous auction.

"These kids take real pride in their participation in this effort," he said.

The evening opens at 6 p.m. at the American Visionary Art Museum at 800 Key Highway. Admission is $70 per person or two tickets for $130. For information, go to or call 410-744-7310.