Elaine Morrison – Art with Empathy

“The Blue Line” by Elaine Morrison “Feelings of despair overwhelm the alcoholic. The blue line encompasses him and his addiction. They are one. Recovery is a choice.”
“The Blue Line” by Elaine Morrison “Feelings of despair overwhelm the alcoholic. The blue line encompasses him and his addiction. They are one. Recovery is a choice.”

Art Girl

By Kimberly J.B. Smith
Contributing Writer

Dick Smith (left) showing teaching photography skills to one of Laconia’s homeless.
Dick Smith (left) showing teaching photography skills to one of Laconia’s homeless.

There are many reasons for art making. Inspiration may come from an intellectual or aesthetic impulse. The work may be utilitarian or conceptual. For others, making art is simply for the joy of creating.
For Elaine Morrison, artmaking is a journey of empathy for others. Elaine shares her caring and compassion for the less fortunate by painting, quite literally, the picture of homelessness. Imagine the image of an individual’s despair, asleep in a doorway or sitting alone in a park. Many of Elaine’s works are paintings and when they are, they grab you and make you look at that which you wish to avoid. Elaine’s work is gritty and detailed. It is powerful and important. Elaine is a force of artistic will and heart.
Painting is one of many mediums that Elaine employs. She sees possibilities everywhere and is open to using all mediums and styles to keep growing as an artist. Where some artists work entirely in one medium, Elaine is in another stratosphere with her mind and materials.

Photo by Velvet a River Crew member.
Photo by Velvet a River Crew member.
“Dear Daddy” by Elaine Morrison. “The homeless man has withdrawn into his sleeping bag unable to read the letters and drawings from his daughter due to mental illness. Homelessness has many causes. Mental illness presents one of the challenges.”
“Dear Daddy” by Elaine Morrison. “The homeless man has withdrawn into his sleeping bag unable to read the letters and drawings from his daughter due to mental illness. Homelessness has many causes. Mental illness presents one of the challenges.”

This is only the beginning of the story of Elaine Morrison. She walked the talk when she created a program called River Crew Art. Elaine’s training in Special Ed and Integrated Art at Plymouth State University are, I believe, where her unique contributions began. Working in schools, Elaine found a talent for helping students feel empowered. Projects like collaborative murals and individual artistic pursuits germinated the idea of something revolutionary in the Lakes Region.
Three years ago, Elaine and her comrade Dick Smith, took to the streets of Laconia to find those less fortunate who were struggling in the shadows. Elaine offered a connection through art and Dick shared his photography skills. Their goal was to share their gifts and give a voice to the homeless.
Over time, a few rules were established. Use of alcohol while with the River Crew &/or negative perseveration were unacceptable. Rather, Elaine and Dick wanted to give their group an experience in self-worth and the gratification of giving back to the community. Surprising perhaps, but the goal was not sobriety. Not through River Crew Arts but most hopefully down the road.
Stories include the reticent woman who let her guard down just enough for Elaine to work her magic when an art opportunity presented itself. A leaf fell, Elaine encouraged the woman to trace it and suddenly this woman was making art and guest book designs using fallen leaves!
Dick helped another River Crew member to discover her photography skills. Now this person is collaborating with a number of local businesses.
River Crew Art combats learned helplessness through empowerment and the arts. Elaine and Dick have enlisted others to help too. They include a potter, a woodworker and a chef too. At a recent show at the Belknap Mill (that I stumbled into by good fortune), I saw a wide variety of art including tributes to others in need, masks, a mural on part of a car body and of course, the guest book for public responses! Outreach by The River Crew Artists include sending artistic works to Newtown, Chad at Dartmouth and the Belknap Nursing Home.
Quite an accomplishment but River Crew Arts is only one of Elaine’s successful projects. Paintings of youngsters participating in adaptive skiing, paintings about the history and story of Native Americans (Elaine has some lineage) and 15 pieces of art celebrating the contributions of the military are now housed at the National Guard Armory.
Elaine lives authentically, feels deeply and contributes fully. Her work can be seen at venues related to the Lakes Region Art Association.

Kimberly J.B. Smith is an artist and art educator. You can see her work at www.KimberlyJBSmith.com