A closer look reveals that the initial impressions are deceptive. Those heartwarming scenes are playing out against a backdrop of falling bombs, crumbling buildings, and rolling tanks.
They are the images of war as seen through the eyes of children, collected in a moving exhibit that lines the walls of Maginnes Hall. The exhibit is titled "They Still Draw Pictures: Children’s Art in Wartime" and was brought to Lehigh by Ricardo Viera, professor of art and architecture and curator of the university’s art galleries, to illustrate the impact of war on humankind’s most vulnerable.
The exhibit was put together by West Coast curators and historians Anthony Geist and Peter Carroll, who, Viera says, "have been good friends to Lehigh University over the years.
"I am a very strong believer in the directness of thought and feeling that children have. It comes from the heart. It is so fresh and bold, and very expressive. To me, it is a priceless collection of drawings."
`Opportune time to examine war’
The framed drawings in the collection are exhibited on four of Maginnes’ levels, and have become a timely and provocative topic for visitors to the home of many departments in the College of Arts and Sciences.
"It is one of the most talked about exhibits we’ve had here," Viera says. "Some students think it’s terrific, others are more uncomfortable with the images. But everyone responds to a sort of raw feeling that comes through. And, for better or for worse, it’s a very opportune time to examine the issue of war."
Also included in the exhibit are black and white photographs, some showing groups of small children clustered around tiny wooden tables in Children’s Colonies, created by international relief efforts in war zones around the world to serve as safe havens for frightened and bereaved children whose lives were devastated by war.
Many of the nearly 100 drawings included in the exhibit were created by the children in these camps to convey their sense of war in order to raise international awareness of their plight. Others were produced by children embroiled in conflicts around the globe, including violence in Poland, Terezin (Czechokslovakia), Burma, Sri Lanka, the Middle East, Croatia, and Kosovo--the most recent conflict represented.
Despite the vastly different circumstances surrounding the lives of the children affected by the wars, their drawings evoke similar emotions, Viera says. Heartache and sadness, coupled with an indefatigable resolve to recreate order, balance and beauty, are resolute themes that permeate the images.
"It is amazing to me how these children conveyed their emotions," he says. "It is very sad, at times, and very beautiful, and it can teach all of us a lesson on how precious and fleeting life is. When we see what these children lived through and how resilient their spirit is, we can learn a great deal."