USA (MNN) — One organization has collected over 100 pieces of framed art and recently launched its first traveling gallery. What makes these art pieces special? The talented men and women who created these pieces are in prison.
Crossroads Prison Ministries connects Christian mentors with prisoners through Bible studies and letter writing. Twenty years ago, the ministry noticed the envelopes that their students mailed in often had artwork on them.
Eliezer Yeong, the curator for the Prisoner Art Project at Crossroads, says, “From there, we realized that we really needed to do something with this and to share it with other people.”
They started collecting artwork from students, and in 2009, Crossroads opened a local gallery on its campus.
Many of the art pieces carry deep spiritual meaning for the students. As they process God’s Word and how it applies to their lives, their reflections come out through creative expression.
Seeing the artwork come through the Prisoner Art Project is personally impactful for Yeong.
“When I come across the Prisoner Art Project and the work that comes in, I’m interacting with stories from people that are opening up their whole lives in a vulnerable way that I haven’t experienced before. It’s these people sharing stories of God’s goodness and grace in their lives through some very, very painful experiences.”
One of Yeong’s favorite artists in the Prisoner Art Project is a man named Mike K. in Wisconsin.
“He actually picked up a paintbrush for the first time in prison. The first piece that he shared with us is actually called ‘One Day At A Time’. It’s connected to his story of teaching himself how to paint. He talks about his experiences of every day just trying to go into the Word. But then, as he was doing that, [he was] also coupling that with his hobby of learning how to paint,” Yeong says.
“You’ll just be amazed by the amount of beauty and depth that he has in his piece…. The color and the warmth and the depth [are] just so captivating.
“He’s self-taught and in that space that he’s so confined to, there isn’t a lot of inspiration. So to see someone create that out of almost nothing is really incredible and a huge testament to God’s goodness.”
Mike also shared another piece of art inspired by the Lake Michigan lakeshore. Crossroads was having a conference by Lake Michigan and wanted to feature the artistry of their students.
Crossroads sent the request for art pieces on a Friday along with some Lake Michigan reference photos. Mike’s artwork was delivered the following Monday.
“What was so cool about that was…the picture that Mike had painted for us was almost exactly the same as the reference photo attached — not because he had been copying it, but because he had been working on that same picture for months beforehand.”
Yeong says, “That really just showed us again how much God is working throughout the art program and using these students in their skills and bringing those to the light in a way that we hadn’t seen before.”
As people interact with Crossroads’ on-campus and traveling art galleries featuring their student-artists, Yeong hopes it serves as spiritual inspiration and builds bridges between prisoners and the Church.
“Artwork that is so beautiful can be made by anybody. It really is almost a leveling feeling that you get and a response that it shows you — no matter who you are and what your past is — God still has the ability and power to change your life and to make beautiful things of you.
“My hope and dream is for the gallery to be an experience for people to ask themselves what they’re doing in their daily lives, and how they can pour themselves out in a way where they can bring out that light and love of Christ and of other people.”
Crossroads is always looking for more Christian mentors to correspond with prisoners in their Bible study program.
It’s true, it can be intimidating at first. New mentors wonder if they’ll even know what to say in their letters.
However, as these beautiful art pieces by Crossroads’ students show, there is common ground in both sin and beauty on both sides of the prison bars.
“That’s what we really dream that art project to be — an opportunity for people to get to know someone’s name and story as an access point in order to share the Gospel of Christ.”
Please also pray for Crossroads’ students in prison. Pray that they would know the truth and encouragement of their Heavenly Father. Ask God to draw men and women in prison to Himself, and if He would use you as His ambassador to make this possible.
You can also learn more about the Prisoner Art Project here!
“When I see this artwork and I see that vulnerability, and when I see the amount of detail and beauty in the creations that they’re making, I really am in this state of worship — seeing God is so good that He’s able to bring this out of the darkest places. So it really is such a special thing to see and to be a part of.”
(Header image, artwork courtesy of Sean R. with Crossroads Prison Ministries)