'Impressions of Home'

DATE: Monday, March 27, 2017

HCC alumna Alicia Shibley, '13, is helping homeless shelter residents in Springfield create art.

HCC alumna Alicia Shibley, '13, talks about the Taber Art Gallery exhibit "Impressions of Home."

Many of the pieces now on display in HCC's Taber Art Gallery are the work of one man, Jaleel Aziz.

Aziz is a prolific painter whose subjects range from birds and beaches to portraits of women and simple scenes of everyday life.

One in particular stands out, "Untitled #17." It features a bed in a room under a window and perfectly illustrates the theme of the show, "Impressions of Home," a collection of artwork produced by residents of the Friends of the Homeless shelter in Springfield. The show runs through Thursday, March 30.

Aziz has multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair. He's lost a lot of fine motor skills, so when his right hand starts to hurt, he paints with his left.

"If you guys could see him, he is amazing," the exhibit's curator, Alicia Shibley, said last week during a reception and gallery talk. "He is covered in paint all the time. There's paint on his hands. There's paint on his clothes. He's a very vibrant person. He paints constantly. It's very inspiring."

Had it not been for Shibley, Aziz and other residents at the shelter might not have had a chance to create any art, let alone have their work displayed in a gallery.

Shibley graduated from HCC in 2013 with her associate degree in Visual Arts, then transferred to UMass, where she earned her bachelor's degree in Fine Arts in 2015. She is now working on her master's degree in art therapy and counseling at Springfield College and has been at the shelter for more than a year as an intern and the arts program facilitator.

"We came up with this idea to explore art and see how it went with the residents who passed through," said Shibley, who lives in West Springfield.

Twice a week, for a few hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Shibley meets with shelter residents in the cafeteria and helps them create art.

"I hope that everybody can just take a minute and kind of feel what it feels like to step into these paintings and maybe experience what these artists are experiencing," Shibley said. "Their stories are so diverse, and it is really a privilege to spend time with them."

More than 1,000 people pass through the emergency overnight shelter every year, said Sarah Tanner, the director of Development, which makes Friends of the Homeless the largest resource center of its kind in Massachusetts outside of Boston.

The Taber exhibit is just a small portion from a larger collection of work that will be up for auction at the Friends of the Homeless's second annual fundraiser June 5 at the Log Cabin in Holyoke.

"What is so remarkable about this work," said Tanner, "is it really helps us reach out to the community and break down some of those stereotypes and assumptions people have about folks who are experiencing homelessness, and see that every single one of us in this room or who might be experiencing homelessness tonight, we all have the same hope and dream to be in our own home, to be in our own room, to be in our own bed, and we are incredibly grateful that Alicia has come to really tap in and build relationships with our guests to create this type of work and to start to tell their stories."

At HCC, under the tutelage of art professor Alix Hegeler, and later at UMass, Shibley focused on printmaking. She said art therapy allows her to combine her love of art and love for helping others.

"I have come to very much appreciate the power of art and the power of healing in the visual world," she said. "I thought art therapy would allow me to incorporate both into a career. I still love printmaking and continue to focus on it in my down time."

The Taber Art Gallery, accessible through the HCC Library, is open Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

PHOTOS and STORY by CHRIS YURKO: Alicia Shibley, '13, talks about the HCC Taber Art Gallery exhibit "Impressions of Home."

Watch the video below from MassLive / Republican photographer Don Treeger: