Prison art exhibit debuts at Manistee Art Institute
By Vince Hancock 8/10/09
From tiny territorial prisons across the country, to behemoths like Leavenworth, prison art has existed as long as people have been incarcerated. Inmates, with time as their most plentiful resource, have used bits of soap, trash and other social residue to produce stunning and surprising works.
Some prison art is as notorious as its creators. Serial killer John Wayne Gacy painted images of Disney characters and clowns. Family members of his victims purchased many of them so they could be pitched onto a bonfire. Other art remains locked inside, scratched directly onto walls and only seen by the next inmate.
For many, the closest contact with prison art is the Clint Eastwood flick, Escape From Alcatraz, in which the character of Doc is punished for his portrait of the warden.
For those whove never seen prison art directly, the Manistee Art Institutes upcoming show at the Ramsdell Theatre in Manistee will be a mandatory sentence. Tudie Rulison, an MAI board member and organizer of the show, has herself put in several years of labor. Its isnt something you do overnight, she says. A show doesnt normally take three years to put together.
After battling red tape and uncertain timelines, Rulison is about ready to open the doors. But even with contributions from the University of Michigans Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP), the Manistee County Jail and Manistees Oaks Correctional Facility, the exhibit is just a small sampling of available artwork.