Walking into the historic Connecticut State Capitol building on the eve of December 14th, patrons of perseverance, and consumers of culture came to witness the unveiling of survival, concretized. In commemoration of the Sandy Hook elementary school tragedy, artworks created by hundreds of Newtown residents were organized into the art therapy exhibition, “The Emerald Sketch Art: Paper Sculptures of Safe Places.” This unveiling of healing and therapeutic artwork was organized to empower the Newtown residents and educate the public on the beneficial qualities of art therapy.
The restorative work began shortly after the 2012 tragedy of the Sandy Hook Elementary school. A member of the Newtown community reached out to friend, Nicole Porter Willcox, to inquire about art therapy services. That winter, Nicole worked alongside a treatment team of mental health practitioners to provide trauma-focused services to elementary aged children affected by the tragedy. After the project’s close Nicole volunteered her art therapy services to the community. Her work with the community blossomed into the creation of The Emerald Sketch: a not-for-profit organization with the mission of promoting healing services to students, families, faculty and first responders.
In a sit-down with Nicole, she explained why art therapy works and what projects and techniques the Emerald sketch employs. Scientific research shows that trauma is recorded as pre-verbal information, such as visual imagery. Visual imagery is associated with right hemisphere of the brain. However, language is associated with the left hemisphere of the brain. Often times, it is difficult to transfer the visual trauma to the language centers of the brain, which can make verbal therapy with traumatized patients difficult. As such, art is an effective way to begin to explore the trauma. Creativity is a bilateral experience, which requires the functioning of both hemispheres of the brain. Art making is a tool that can be used to synthesize the trauma experience and allow healing to begin.
Each of the projects and techniques employed by The Emerald Sketch were built around the theme of safety. One of the projects featured in the exhibition is a giant bird’s nest. Initially, participants were provided soft and safe materials and encouraged to create. The project took flight, and by it’s completion over 100 Newtown residents had creatively contributed to the communal nest. The art piece concretizes Newtown’s resilience and communal will to rebuild a safe environment.
Similar safe projects were crafted over the course of various art therapy sessions. The wealth of material grew at an exponential rate, and it seemed therapeutically appropriate to organize the work for exhibition. The experience, Nicole described, is an exciting way to show the progress and journey of the Newtown residents, and to increase public awareness on the benefits of art therapy in overcoming trauma.
Javere Pinnock (MPS Art Therapy Class of 2014)