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Prison art detailed at AIC lecture

For 29 years Phyllis Kornfeld has been working closely with incarcerated men and women around the country.

The Stockbridge artist, author and educator talked about her experiences with students and faculty at American International College. Kornfeld presented her slide/talk exhibition Wednesday, November 14 in the West Wing of the Karen Sprague Cultural Arts Center.

The event was sponsored by the AIC Faculty Cultural Committee.

The author of "Cellblock Visions: Prison Art in America," said she has had some prisoners in her art classes for as long as 10 years. "It is important to demonstrate, to young people in particular, that prisoners have the same potential for good or evil as the rest of us, and the capability, even the inclination, to act out of their highest impulses. This is powerfully evident in the artwork," she said.

One of her first prison experiences involved a man she met who brought her 60 drawings done on the backs of envelopes, calendars and other paper trash. "I was looking at something that I had never seen before. This man had been in prison for 17 years. He didn't have a window, a job, didn't go to the library, and this was what came out of him: pure beauty, sweetness and positivity," she said.

Her book presents some of the most inventive and gripping examples of outsider art, but also offers an unprecedented account of prison art in particular. From painting to toilet-paper sculpture, the works of prisoners range from awkward attempts to amazing displays of virtuosity. Kornfeld presents the artists whose works offer freshness and surprise and tells the moving stories behind them.

Kornfeld received her bachelor's degree from the University of Texas at El Paso and her master of fine arts degree from the University of Oklahoma. Her lecture appearances include the University of Michigan Conference on Arts in Corrections, Brown University, University of San Francisco and Carnegie Mellon University.

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