By Surinder Moore
In 1975 the First Presbyterian Church of Dallas launched The Stewpot, a food program organized by the associate pastor and members of the church in response to the many homeless and hungry that came knocking on their church door. In recent years the Stewpot has turned into much more then a food program, mostly due to the discovery that the homeless require more then food, they needed help getting their lives back on track. Almost three decades later the Stewpot has been transformed into a resource center for at-risk individuals, and is helping rebuild lives through the various programs it offers.
The Stewpot provides many services to at-risk individuals including counseling for drug and alcohol addiction, youth programs, a voice mail service for potential employers to contact job applicants, bible study classes and medical services. Last month we visited the Stewpot to talk to them about their art program, a popular program that has allowed participants to express themselves through various artistic mediums and has also been a source of therapy too.
The Art Program Director, Cynthia Brannum gave us a private tour of the art facility. We really didn’t know what we’d expect to see, but what we found were many talented individuals who have turned their hard-knock experiences into something beautiful for us to see. While touring the facility we saw a multitude of paintings, sketches and crafted items that wouldn’t look out of place alongside better-known artist’s work at national galleries. One such artist, Cornelius Brackens, came to the art program in October 2006 in circumstances he describes very passionately as “with art in my soul and nowhere to go.” Cornelius’ work has a common theme we quickly became familiar with while touring the facility. Each piece of his art told a story. There are scenes of church ceremonies, various depictions of Christ and “life” themes each of us can identify with.
Cornelius has shown his work at several galleries. In Dec. 2006 and Dec. 2007 his work was displayed at the Bradshaw Gallery in a group showing of Stewpot artists. While visiting the Stewpot we were fortunate to see Brackens diligently working on a custom piece for one of the many people who have become collectors of his paintings. One painting entitled “Jesus, While On Others Thou Art Calling, Do Not Pass Me By” is part of President and Mrs. George Bush’s private art collection.
Another incredibly talented artist named Charles Williams had several pieces displayed around Stewpot. Williams’ passion for art began at the young age of 4. His creative ability would land him a job as a cake decorator in his adult life, but in 2005 life threw Charles a curve ball and he ended up at the Stewpot. He has become a popular member of the art program and his work has received much media attention, not only because of his extraordinary ability, but because he has managed to make his way out of homelessness through the sale of his artwork.
Charles has been recognized for his work and as a result won numerous awards including the Keith Bailes Eagle Watch Art Contest; a National art contest that is judged at the Pentagon in Washington D.C. Charles took 2nd place for his work entitled “The Professor.” More recently Charles’s art was displayed at the Texas and Neighbors Regional Art Exhibit, at the Irving Arts Center where he took home the 3rd place award.
When we asked Cynthia Brannum why she thinks the art program has become so popular, she told us “the program allows participants to experience their own creativity and ability…to bring something into this world… to learn and understand more about art and improve their lives.” She went on to tell us that the best part of her job at the Stewpot is watching the individuals regain stability in their lives and grow artistically.
Wish List Items
Frames, acrylic paint, yarn, stretched canvas, drawing pads & other art/craft supplies and monetary donations. If you would like to find out about purchasing some artwork, offer your support or volunteer your services contact Cynthia Brannum, Art Program Director at 214-746-2785 ext. 235.