Above the professionals lolling around on 14th and N yesterday morning, and above the old man with a shock of white hair relieving himself unabashedly against a bush on 14th, was one flag of hope -- a little handpainted sign hung over a black metal railing in front of the Bethany Women's Shelter, which said: "An Expression of Art by Homeless Women."
The exhibition inside, organized by local art therapist Patricia Prugh and held in a small room, featured drawings and paintings by homeless women and shelter dwellers -- some unidentified -- who have participated in a temporary arts community program. There were drawings of happiness, of anger; some uplifting, some depressing; some figurative, some abstract; with titles such as "Red Skies Have Died," "Night in the City," "Lonely Lady," "Purgatory" and -- of course -- "Untitled." Covering a back entrance was a cloth mural, a group effort with various drawings on it -- from an artist's easel to a Ban The Bomb emblem. And half a dozen or so of the 15 represented artists waited nervously for the onslaught of spectators that were to come at noon to see their first-ever exhibition.
"I did this," said Alice (who did not want to reveal her last name) about "Revenge," a Magic-Marker illustration of a blond woman's face. The character has long eyelashes and has one eyebrow raised (in the program notes, Alice has written "She's out to get you"). "I had a particular friend in mind."
"Yellow to me means fear," she said, pointing to a detail in another of her drawings called "Mixed Emotions." "The black shadings in the picture means evil, or anger."
"I didn't dream it would end up on a wall," said Florence (who also declined to give her last name), a soft-voiced elderly woman, of her two chalk drawings, one of a rural home in Iowa, and the other a testimonial for the Bread for the City organization, located just around the corner. She used to be, she said, an employe in a midwestern city clerk's office "before the unions came." Her departure from that job was "a rotten deal, after me being the best employe there . . . " There was also a divorce, and a journey through several states to find work. "You test real good in everything, but it's theirs the states' own first, you know what I mean? . . . Women all alone after divorce, they call them kids . . . You end up homeless for various reasons."
"It's good therapy," said artist Yvonne Willis about the arts workshops -- conducted twice a week by Prugh for homeless Northwest Washington women. Her "Purgatory" is based on Dante's "The Divine Comedy," which she studied in high school. The program "gives you the chance to express yourself in painting, chalk or whatever you do best. It's needed here."
"We homeless women are all in it together, all in some emotional state of depression, but not much help to each other," said Karin, another arts participant, who has two displayed works (one titled "Allegro con Brio"). "This art class is an outlet for feelings of frustration and despair."
"I hope to make this a rotating exhibit around town," said Prugh, who received a grant from the D.C. Fine Arts Commission for the program (classes are obliged to end in two weeks, due to lack of further funding). She also elicited support from the Logan Circle community, which has donated time and services toward this program as well as its finale: an architectural facade that will be erected over the next few weeks in front of Bread for the City and will feature paintings by homeless people within the "windows" of the facade.
The workshop participants numbered approximately 50, said Prugh, who considered the program a success. They "found a place in the artwork to release those feelings trapped inside themselves."