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Portrait project sows seeds of empathy at Portland Art Museum

Armed with handmade paper and her pencils, Jenn is drawing portraits of strangers.

PORTLAND, Ore. -- On the fourth floor of the Portland Art Museum, Jenn Woodward is set up with a simple easel and chair.

At first glance it looks like just another exhibit sandwiched between the sculptures and paintings. But on closer inspection you realize this is an art project in progress.

Armed with handmade paper and her pencils, Jenn is drawing portraits of strangers. She’s been doing it in different neighborhoods around town all summer.

“I am hopefully drawing about a hundred people in Portland, on paper that is embedded with plant seeds” Jenn explained.

Click here to see photos of her portraits.

Jenn is drawing people like Sharon Bishop, who signed up looking for a new perspective.

“Sometimes it’s nice to be seen by someone who doesn’t see you as mom or wife or neighbor,” Sharon said, “someone who just sees you.”

That is exactly the point of this project. Jenn noticed that people rarely look closely at each other, and she thought if they did they might understand each other better. So she created “Fruits of the sun (for all the unknowns),” an art project to promote empathy.

“I really want to connect with people and show them that I see them,” Jenn said, “that their faces are beautiful and anyone can be art.”

Read also: Schnitzer donates $5 million for PSU art museum

But just like the people she draws, these portraits won’t last forever. They are sketched on recycled paper she makes by hand, mixing in real seeds.

“This is native Oregon wildflower seeds, I also have paper with lettuce and kale and spinach,” Jenn said. So when her pop up portrait sessions are over, the paper and the pictures on them will be planted to make a point. “Even though we don’t go on and live forever, beautiful things can still grow from our lives.”

Beautiful things like art, empathy and even a field of wildflowers.
“Fruits of the sun (for all the unknowns)” will be on display for one night only during First Thursday at the Portland Art Museum August 3.

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