HeART and Story

The power of art and story to reveal and heal is universal and timeless. HeART and Story draws on the life and work of Esther Krinitz to inspire reflection, discussion and story sharing among participants. With support from the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County and others, Art and Remembrance has begun a series of pilot HeART and Story programs, focusing on work with immigrant families, in partnership with local established community groups.

HeART and Story got its start in the spring of 2012, when Art and Remembrance paired up with the YMCA of Silver Spring, Youth and Family Services, to offer a two-session workshop to immigrant families as part of the Y’s Linkages to Learning program.

During the first half of the workshop, which took place at New Hampshire Estates Elementary School in Silver Spring MD on May 8, 2012 , the participants (mostly mothers and their teenage daughters) were introduced to Esther Krinitz’s art and life through a screening of the award-winning documentary “Through the Eye of the Needle.” The screening was followed by a discussion with Rachel Steinhardt, the granddaughter of the Holocaust survivor and artist.

Esther’s art and story stirred a wide range of emotions in the audience: joy, sadness, hope, admiration and nostalgia. The participants expressed that they could relate to it, as they too had left their home countries and, in some cases, their own parents and children behind. They were then encouraged to tell their own stories in visual form, creating story pictures in felt collage. Art and Remembrance, working with local artist Lauren Rader, provided the participants with notebooks, pens and pencils so they could make sketches and write notes in preparation for the second part of the workshop.

Two weeks later, the same group returned to create their story pictures, guided by Lauren Rader. The stories that emerged from this session were powerful and touching. One woman’s story cloth had a heart split in two, and she described how it broke her heart to see her children who live in the US unable to go on to college because they could not enroll without documentation. One of her daughters imagined herself as a butterfly traveling freely around the world, without being asked for papers. A man visualized his odyssey as he crossed the Mexican-American border. Another woman traveled back in time to her childhood, when her mother had to leave her and her siblings behind in El Salvador to come to the US in search of a better future for them.

The cloth stories were later assembled in a “quilt” that is displayed in the Forest Glen offices of the YMCA Youth and Family Services. Once the quilt was created, participants described their story cloths, sharing with the rest of the group both their stories and how they visualized them.

The workshop proved to be a cathartic experience for its participants, who, through art, could confront the deep-seated emotions that they had long held within themselves.. They also learned from Esther’s example the importance of recalling and sharing their life experiences with their families, especially their children, who, like Esther’s children and grandchildren, could take pride in their family history. Moreover, Esther’s art gave them a powerful example of how their stories could be told.

We are pleased to say that we have just received funding for a number of workshop series in 2013 and 2014, and are currently expanding our list of partners. Ultimately, we hope to create a program kit, including a DVD of the film, and guide for workshop leaders, so that  groups across the country can facilitate the program themselves for their own communities.