Oak Knoll Artists Use Talents to Spread Peace and Kindness to Students in Cameroon

Through thoughtful and imaginative drawings and paintings, a group of Oak Knoll seniors created unique memories of kindness and understanding for children from Africa. 

Through the Memory Project – a global project where American art students exchange artwork with children from different countries – five seniors in the Oak Knoll Honors Portfolio class drew portraits of and created inspirational works of art for several children from Cameroon. As references, these young artists worked from photographs and written descriptions of the children. 

The students began working on the Memory Project in September in Creative Art Director Will Cardell’s class, and used the fall term to complete their creations. Samantha Petrucco ’22 of Short Hills created portraits of two children. The other Oak Knoll artists, Janet Pearce ’22 of Morristown, Sophia Pharaon ’22 of Short Hills, Grace Sharp ’22 of Bernardsville, and Jackie Melchiorre ’22 of Short Hills made visual art greetings for their children.

“My favorite part was making the contour layout drawings of each child’s face,” said Petrucco. “I used a bit of math to evaluate the ratios of each child’s unique facial structure – for example the proportion of the eyes to the nose, chin to forehead – to make the portraits as accurate as possible. Who says the arts and STEM fields don’t intersect?” she said.

As part of their class assignment, the students researched the challenging conditions of Cameroon, which include impoverishment and government corruption. 

“On the back of each of our projects, we traced our hand and wrote a message, so the children could ‘hold’ our hands when they received the art,” said Petrucco. “Art has such an impactful way of connecting us all, regardless of culture, language, or location. I’ve learned that seemingly small gestures can make a big impression. With paper, pencils, and some watercolors, I’ve hopefully made someone halfway across the world smile.”

When the projects were finished in early January, the artwork was sent to the Memory Project’s headquarters in Wisconsin, along with a donation from each of the participants. The art will be delivered to the children in Cameroon sometime in late February.

“When I joined the Honor’s Art Portfolio class, I knew I really wanted to push my limits as an artist,” said Petrucco. “This year, Mr. Cardell suggested that I do a portrait series; and, when he introduced our class to the Memory Project, I was so excited! With this opportunity, I could study realism and develop further my drafting skills while doing an act of service,” she said. 

Petrucco said that Cardell has been a mentor in her art journey at Oak Knoll. 

“This was a meaningful project for my seniors because it teaches the lesson that art can provide a hopeful response to a sorrow-filled world,” said Cardell. “It is the artist who can open a wider window on those places where things are soothed and healed.” 

For detailed information about the Memory Project please visit https://www.memoryproject.org/.