Chattanooga artist helps inmates discover their creative talents
A well-known Chattanooga artist is helping inmates discover their artistic talents.
Robin Howe ventures into the Hamilton County Jail each week to teach inmates art.
“For the time that I’m in there it’s almost like being removed from the whole world and in some ways that’s very relaxing,” Howe tells Channel 3.
The class is sponsored by the Chattanooga nonprofit Mark Making which provides an opportunity for expression and empowerment to individuals who don’t have access to the arts.
Howe is among a small group of artists who take turns teaching at the jail.
The two-hour class is limited to 15 men at a time and provides a creative outlet for personal expression.
“You see the real sensitive side of people who are broken,” Howe tells Channel 3.”I feel like that comes through in a lot of their work and that’s really overwhelming.”
Howe says she has to get creative when it comes to supplies. She’s not allowed to bring items like scissors and glue inside the jail.
“If I take in 15 pencils, I have to count 15 pencils at the beginning of class. I have to count 15 pencils at the end of class. If there’s 14 pencils nobody can leave. If a pencil is broken in half nobody can leave because something like a pencil is a weapon,” says Howe.
She uses fabrics and tissues and even hair to create art.
“You have to really practice. You can’t wing it at all,” she tells Channel 3.
The men are shackled during class.
Howe describes the inmates as polite and eager to learn and says they are so appreciative that someone is doing something for them.
“It feels really good to bring something to these guys who have nothing else to do all day. They really, really appreciate you. It’s not like a bunch of students who get art every day. It’s like a really big deal for them. It’s a pretty good feeling to know that you’re helping them,” says Howe.
Howe’s personal artwork has been featured on local magazine covers and sold in local galleries as well as the Chattanooga Market.
Most of her business now is commission work.
“One of the appeals of my art actually is that I don’t have straight lines and that in a world that can feel sometimes confining it is very freeing to have somebody that is whimsical,” she says.
She says she has always enjoyed sharing art.
Before moving to Chattanooga, Howe taught at an inner city residential camp and says she found the experience to be extremely rewarding so she was very excited about teaching at the jail.