Presidential Artwork Artists work on display at Obama Foundation office

"The First Family" by David Holt is one of several art pieces from artist in the Project Onward program that have been commissioned by the Obama Foundation and are hanging on the walls in its Hyde Park office at 5235 S. Harper Ct. - Spencer Bibbs
“The First Family” by David Holt is one of several art pieces from artist in the Project Onward program that have been commissioned by the Obama Foundation and are hanging on the walls in its Hyde Park office at 5235 S. Harper Ct.

-Spencer Bibbs

By TONIA HILL
Staff Writer

The Obama Foundation is giving some Chicago artists the opportunity to display their work at the foundation’s Chicago office in Hyde Park, 5325 S. Harper Ct.

Artists from Project Onward spent a year creating pieces for the project. The Bridgeport neighborhood -based organization supports adult artists with mental and developmental disabilities. There are 26 pieces from 16 artists featured at the foundation’s offices.

Lucy Woodhouse has had an interest in art since childhood. She joined the program in 2010, and her work is featured in the project.

Woodhouse uses abstraction in her drawings that include, plant life, and textile designs, and human figures in stark black and white designs. It took about seven or eight days to complete her piece for the project.

To have her work featured at the Obama Foundation is an honor, Woodhouse said. She created Abstraction, ink on paper for the project.

She said the project was a way to give exposure to artists with disabilities who are not given the opportunity demonstrate their talent.

“They are acknowledging people that are artists and have disabilities, Woodhouse said. “People with disabilities have a harder time with getting people to acknowledge them as artists.”

James Allen, another artist, has been drawing since he was 5-years-old. He said he was grateful and honored to create a piece for the project.

Allen’s work usually features drawings of steam trains and subway cars. Allen said the project challenged him, to create something different.

His piece is titled “Japanese Garden,” is described as mixed media on paper.

“It was a challenge. The first thing that I thought to do was a portrait of POTUS or FLOTUS, we needed something more than that…., “ Allen said. “I thought about his presidency. This [Japanese garden] was something different.”

Project Onward was created in 2004 as a Gallery 37 pilot initiative for eight artists who had aged-out of the local youth job training program.

Allen said the program has helped to expand his career in visual arts.

“So many doors have just opened up, and it just gave me so much more motivation to keep going,” Allen said. It’s not an easy gig [being an artist], but it really is rewarding…not monetarily but spiritually.”

Lucy says the program has given her a platform to share her art.

“For me drawing, I think it is just a way of sharing art with other people, which is really fun to do and making other people smile because they like a piece you’ve done,” Woodhouse said.

Artists in the organization are provided with workspace, materials, exhibition opportunities and access to markets free of charge to sell their work.

Marsha Woodhouse is on the board of directors for Project Onward and Lucy Woodhouse’s mother. She joined on to assist when Lucy Woodhouse was accepted into the program.

“Project Onward is a community for my daughter, who is challenged with Prader-Willi Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder,” Marsha Woodhouse said.

“[Project Onward has] given them a community that’s one of the most important aspects of the program,” Marsha Woodhouse said. “They come in, and they have a community, and they are artists, and they think of themselves like that.”

Development manager, Sandra Tanzer added that the artists at Project Onward “are not marginalized.”

There are 50 artists at Project Onward that range in age from 20-to-70-years old and live in 30 different communities in Chicago predominately on the Southside.

Mark Jackson, artist and studio director and co-founder of Project Onward, said the Obama Foundation project was one of the most rewarding for the organization.

“It’s one of the highlights of our careers here,” Jackson said. “It’s inspiring for us, it feels like we have achieved something important. [The artists] are just really proud of themselves for what they’ve accomplished.”

“This is the pinnacle of our existence,” Marsha Woodhouse said. “We really appreciate the fact that the Foundation had the vision to see us and realize our potential.”

Marsha Woodhouse said the artists really stretched themselves producing art for this project, “They went beyond anything they have ever done before.”

Prior to their work for the Obama Foundation, work by artist from Project Onward was also featured at the Hyde Park Community Art Fair in June. Tanzer said that they hope to be included in next summer’s fair.

The foundation office is not open to the public. However, anyone that is interested in seeing work from Project Onward artists can visit the gallery at 1200 W. 35th St., for free, Wednesday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

t.hill@hpherald.com