Chemeketa Courier

Art Imprisoned

By Sydney Agee
The Gretchen Schuette Art Gallery in Bldg. 3 opened a new feature last week on Chemeketa’s Salem campus.
The tasteful display of paintings and poetry was created by self-taught inmates at the Oregon State Correctional Institution.
Tanya Snider, a criminal justice instructor who pulled the display together, said: “It has been a dream for me to bring something to the gallery that no one has seen before.”
Next to the paintings are writings from everyone who helped bring the project together, including Chemeketa instructors; they all shared their experiences of walking into the Oregon State Correctional Institution for the first time.
Laura Mack, an art instructor, wrote: “The first time I went in to teach a class at Oregon State Correctional Institution, I was nervous.” But she said that the experience paid off, and the inmates ended up creating magnificent pieces of artwork.
Mack wrote that she ended the term knowing that she had done something that mattered.
Inmate David Lahnala painted a piece that he called Old Building.
Paintings of the prison’s architecture are common as you look around the display, yet each piece has its own story, its own blend of colors and textures setting it apart from the others, and in giving the viewer a completely new perspective.
Lahnala, 52, wrote in an entry next to his artwork, “Painting was a hobby that released me from the confines of a cell.”
Confines of a cell is another theme as you look around the displays and read the descriptions of the artwork and poetry.
A poet identified only as Chip wrote about birds, expressing their freedom he so desires: “What beauty, what wonder, what freedom.”
The display is about power, the individual emotions you can feel with every glance around the gallery, and the hard work that each and every artist and poet put into their creations. It shows the dynamics between what we are used to seeing: artists trained on a collegiate level.
But Deborah Trousdale, a Chemeketa art instructor, wrote, “Education in the arts is a powerful tool for personal change, in prison or out.”
The display is moving. In the words of Tanya Snider: “Look around you. This is the VIEW FROM INSIDE” – as in, inside a prison cell.
It’s a view that you are not likely to find everywhere else.