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Published: Saturday, 1/3/2009

Perrysburg Municipal Court hosts art from death row

BY BRIDGET THARP
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Fred Moor and Martha Baldoni examine the artwork on display this month in the Perrysburg Municipal Court Building.
Fred Moor and Martha Baldoni examine the artwork on display this month in the Perrysburg Municipal Court Building.
THE BLADE/LUKE BLACK Enlarge | Buy This Photo

At first glance, the bright images of roses and mountains on display at the Perrysburg Municipal Court appear to have nothing in common with the dark life of prison.

But a closer examination reveals that all the artists - identified by name and hometown - were convicted of violent crimes and sentenced to death. About two dozen pieces priced from $75 to $300 are on display through Jan. 30 at the court, 300 Walnut St.

The Perrysburg Area Arts Council is selling the art created by death-row inmates from across the country on behalf of The Compassion Project, which sponsors a newsletter for the prisoners.

Cash generated by the sales will help fund scholarships for relatives of murder victims.

Though exhibit organizers expected the display to arouse some emotion, there have been no formal complaints about the exhibit since the art was put on display last month.

"I heard one comment, like, 'What a rough way to spend your time,'•" said Robin Ballmer, director of the Perrysburg Area Arts Council. "But we're not taking a position on the death penalty. We are looking at this as taking something evil and making it good, not taking a stand on what the inmates did."

Instead, the display seems to be generating discussion.

"A lot of people have been looking at and reading where it came from," Bailiff Doug Spencer said. "Some of the work is very good."

The art was created in jail cells by inmates handling modest supplies - one sketch was done with a No. 2 pencil.

"Their art is sometimes primitive, and you have to go in with the idea that they don't have the materials that an artist on the outside would have," former Perrysburg Mayor Martha Baldoni said.

The art for sale is matted and mounted behind plastic, but not framed because the pieces were submitted makeshift style - the same as how many of them were created. Some were folded to fit in a conventional business envelope, others were rolled before being wrapped with scrap paper, and a few were protected by salvaged cardboard.

"The art is beautiful," Ms. Ballmer said. "Some inmates are really talented, and too bad they couldn't have found a path with their art."

The Compassion Project began in 2001 after Fred Moor, co-owner of area Ken's Flowers stores, was contacted by a man on death row in Youngstown. Siddique Abdullah Hasan, formerly Carlos Sanders, was one of the so-called "Lucasville Five" convicted in connection with the murder of a prison guard during a 1993 prison riot.

Hasan was the first editor of what would become a bi-monthly newsletter funded by The Compassion Project.

The newsletter includes writings by inmates and those affected by violence. The newsletter doesn't censor victims' anger and should "make other death row prisoners aware of these feelings," Mr. Moor said.

Through sponsorships of the newsletter, The Compassion Project has given at least $34,000 in scholarships to the families of murder victims. With help from the art sale, a new scholarship soon will be offered in the amount of $2,000, Mr. Moor said.

Since The Compassion Project called for artist submissions earlier this year, works have piled up, Mr. Moor said. Less than half of the submissions were included in the display because of space restrictions. The other pieces are in storage until a new venue is booked for another exhibit, Mr. Moor said.

"These people donated their artwork for the purpose of helping others," Mr. Moor said. "One of the things I hope [exhibit visitors] can see, is to see the humanity in them even though they've done these or been convicted of these horrible crimes."

The art will be on display until Jan. 30, but purchased art will be immediately removed from the exhibit. To make a purchase, contact the Perrysburg Area Arts Council, 419-873-2787.



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