Image: Katrina artists
David J. Phillip  /  AP
Hurricane Katrina evacuees Joshua Hilton, right, and Reginald Otkins will have their artwork displayed at the Houston public library.
updated 12/16/2005 8:34:26 PM ET 2005-12-17T01:34:26

The drawings, done mostly in crayon and marker, are full of bleak images — bodies floating, floodwaters ripping loved ones away, children crying red tears. But often they contain glimmers of hope, too, such as a blue sky, a shining sun, a rainbow.

One teen drew a self-portrait in which he wore a shirt that read, “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.”

Thirty drawings by children who witnessed the horrors of Hurricane Katrina go on display Saturday through Jan. 4 at the Houston public library. The exhibit will then be taken on 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 also features a quilt with more drawings that have been transferred onto cloth and stitched together. Part of the quilt was made with materials gathered from New Orleans after the storm.

The pictures were produced as part 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.

“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.

A way of expressing themselves
After seeing some of the art, she realized it could also help the kids express their emotions. She enlisted a few friends and returned the next day.

The kids drew images of helicopters rescuing people in flooded neighborhoods or stick figures saying, “We need food and water” as they stood in front of the New Orleans Superdome, where evacuees stayed for days under horrible conditions.

“The kids, they don’t have a motive, they don’t have an agenda,” said one of DiMuzio’s friends, Ashley Bryan, 36. “They just put an image out there. It so accurately captures their experience.”

One 12-year-old boy used a vivid pencil drawing of flooded homes in his New Orleans neighborhood, the devastated Ninth Ward, to finally tell Bryan that his mother had been swept away by the rushing waters and he was in Houston all alone. He has since been reunited with his aunt.

“It was through his artwork that he became comfortable enough to tell somebody what was his actual situation,” Bryan said. “It is the absolute tool needed to initiate conversation, to begin the therapy process.”

Daniel Hoover, a child psychologist with the Menninger Clinic in Houston, said such art therapy should become standard with children after disasters like Katrina.

“Many times children are less likely to say things in words but express things through art or play,” he said.

The project, which has already raised money through sales of T-shirts and greeting cards featuring the art, allowed several children to hang on to some optimism, the women said. Reginald, for example, said the art helped him tell the story of how people stayed strong.

“Even if it’s a picture of the Superdome, there is almost always sunshine or a rainbow,” said Janine Schueppert, 38. “It was almost always the last thing they added to their pictures.”

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