Art Inspires WC Senior to Create Partnership Between WC and Local Women’s Reformatory

By Laura Fitzpatrick, Staff Writer

Although WCHS senior Olivia Howard is just 18 years old, she is already quite familiar with the prison system. In her fourth and final year as a Warrior, she has worked diligently to bring together that knowledge of the prison system and her passion for art into a unique new partnership between WC and the Ohio Reformatory for Women (ORW) in Marysville, Ohio. This new partnership has proven to be a blessing to all involved.

Olivia’s father is Deputy Warden of Chillicothe Correctional Institution. Knowing Olivia’s deep appreciation for art, Warden Howard introduced Olivia to some artwork a few years ago that had been created by inmates at ORW through a unique training program that exists within the facility. ORW hosts an Art Guild for interested inmates, providing basic training in craftsmanship such as quilt work, jewelry making, painting, and more. The beauty and complexity of the artwork Olivia saw by the ORW inmates astounded and inspired her. She knew she wanted to share this artwork with the WC community.

Olivia felt burdened for students at WC, especially those who may never have been exposed to different cultures and environments, to see and understand those in the prison system in a different light. “I wanted to create a partnership between WC and ORW both for fun and for humanization,” explains Olivia. “Art reveals a person’s passion and soul.” Rather than perceiving inmates through preconceived stereotypes, she longs for them to be seen and heard as humans with unique life stories, talents, hopes, and dreams.

After discussing her idea with WCHS Art teacher Beth Heisey through her sophomore and junior years, Olivia and Heisey decided to pursue a partnership between WC and ORW last fall officially. Not knowing exactly what such a partnership might look like, they contacted then-warden (she has since changed roles) of ORW Ronette “Roni” Burkes to establish an initial connection.

After finding out about WC’s Fall Festival (fundraiser for the Senior Capstone trip to the Dominican Republic) last October, several women from the ORW’s Art Guild offered to donate some of their work to be auctioned off at the event. Even though they had seen pictures and examples of the inmates’ artwork, Olivia and Heisey were not sure exactly what to expect in receiving these donations. They, along with WC junior Jaclyn Hamilton, visited ORW to pick up the donations and meet Warden Burkes and the creators of the donated auction items a short time before the school’s Fall Festival. What they saw when they arrived there left them speechless.

Members of the Art Guild had made hats, gloves, and jewelry as auction items for the Fall Festival. One particular artist had even created a full-size custom made OSU quilt in half the usual time necessary for such a project for it to be ready for the WC event; others created wall art such as paintings to be auctioned off in benefit of the DR trip. Mrs. Heisey explains, “These women truly just want to help the community.” Olivia further explains, “The women we met are down-to-earth, kind-hearted, and talented…they are very eager to support mission work and partner with the local community.”

This partnership between WC and ORW, which Mrs. Heisey has dubbed the “We Stand Together” initiative, has positively impacted not only our high school campus but also the elementary school. In January of this year, Olivia and Heisey commissioned women from the ORW Art Guild to create some pieces in honor of WC’s Reading Week. They received two large paintings and two beautifully detailed quilts depicting popular children’s book characters such as “Fancy Nancy” and “Flat Stanley,” made by ORW inmates just for our school community. WCHS art students also created two large paintings of famous literary characters to pair with the ORW pieces.

The ORW Art Guild is currently partnering with WC for the upcoming “Taste of the DR” event on Saturday, April 27 from 6:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m. in the Hogue Commons. They have created more incredible artwork to be auctioned off at this event to raise funds for next year’s Senior Capstone trip, including a custom-made full-sized Warriors quilt and the two half-sized quilts featured at WCES Reading Week.

While the “We Stand Together” initiative is still a developing partnership between ORW and WC, Olivia hopes that more students catch the vision for it moving forward. The women in the Art Guild work exclusively using donated items. Olivia would love to see WC students support the Art Guild through an art supply drive, letters of encouragement, and similar expressions of gratitude and partnership.

To see more photos of the “We Stand Together” initiative, visit our SmugMug gallery. If you are interested in attending the upcoming Taste of the DR event (and bidding on some of the ORW auction items!), you can buy tickets or make a donation here.