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MCI inmates' art on display at USM-H library

June 13, 2008|By JOSH SHAW

HAGERSTOWN -- Paintings of birds, pictures of puppies and sculptures of model cars made from popsicle sticks line the walls of the library at the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown, but they were not created by students or professional artists.

The art was created by inmates at the Maryland Correctional Institution south of Hagerstown for the annual show.

The inmate art group consists of about 40 inmates who use acrylic paint, pastels, colored pencils and popsicle sticks to express themselves once a week, said Victor Wachs, care manager and group coordinator at the institution.

"People always ask me if I think the group is therapeutic for them, but really it is a way for them to keep out of trouble," he said.

The group is made up of people who are incarcerated for anything from theft to homicide. Members meet every Tuesday night to work on their projects, Wachs said.

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Participants are allowed to order supplies through Wachs each week, and all of them are self-taught, Wachs said.

This year, nearly 50 paintings, pictures and sculptures were submitted to the art show, which runs through July 4.

Wachs said the art shows usually are popular, but said some people have a hard time accepting the art as "real" because of who is producing it.

"It is surprising to a lot of them, but whether a person is in prison or not, art is art," he said. "It shouldn't matter who makes it. Art is art."

Wachs said some people are surprised by the content of the pieces being produced.

"Most people make things that they are fond of like cars and landscapes," he said. "People expect something more hard core, and I even asked them to try something a little edgy. A couple paintings have an erotic touch, but nothing is vulgar."

Judges will award prizes to the top pieces at the show, and winners will receive a credit for future art supplies.

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