HOUSTON - A new exhibit of artwork by children who witnessed the horrors of Hurricane Katrina is full of shocking and tragic images: bodies floating, floodwaters ripping loved ones away and children crying red tears.
But the work, done mostly in crayon and marker, also includes several images of hope, such as a bright blue sky or a shining sun. One teen even drew a self-portrait in which he wore a shirt that said "I Survived Katrina."
"It was the first thing I drew," said Reginald Otkins, a 15-year-old from New Orleans. "That was a picture of me telling people I had survived Katrina. To me, the hurricane was a minor setback, and people just have to take time and get a little bit of their life back step by step."
A collection of 30 children's pictures will be on display Saturday until Jan. 4 at the Houston public library, then is scheduled for a national tour to raise money for hurricane victims and promote art therapy. The art was culled from more than 600 pieces created by children who took shelter in Houston's Astrodome and Reliant Center after Katrina hit the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29.
The collection features a quilt with drawings that have been transferred onto cloth and stitched together, as well as an educational program on emergency preparedness. Part of the quilt was made with materials gathered from New Orleans after the storm.
The optimism in many pictures is the result of the Katrina's Kids Project, which began on Labor Day when volunteer and stay-at-home mom Johna DiMuzio brought art supplies to give the children at the shelter something to do.
After seeing some of the art, she realized it also could help the kids express their emotion.
"The children started coming up and showing me these pictures of these images of the hurricane, of people drowning, things that bought tears to your eyes," DiMuzio said.
One 12-year-old boy whom Bryan befriended used a vivid pencil drawing of flooded homes in his New Orleans neighborhood to finally tell her his mother had been swept away by the rushing waters and he was all alone.
"It was through his artwork that he became comfortable enough to tell somebody what was his actual situation," DiMuzio said. "It is the absolute tool needed to initiate conversation, to begin the therapy process."
Dr. Daniel Hoover, a child psychologist with the Menninger Clinic in Houston, said such art therapy should become a standard form of intervention with children after disasters such as Katrina.