Col­lage for a cause

High-end jew­ellery de­signer in Cal­i­for­nia turns to col­lage project to ben­e­fit home­less teens.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - People - By THERESA WALKER

LAST sum­mer, af­ter a suc­cess­ful ca­reer as a fash­ion jew­ellery de­signer that in­cludes a re­cent re­vival of her 80s-era acrylic de­signs as retro chic ac­cou­trement, Ju­dith Hendler fig­ured it was time to ease into re­tire­ment. That would mean purg­ing some of the art ma­te­ri­als she’d ac­cu­mu­lated over more than three decades.

Hendler, 75, had no idea how her de­ci­sion to do some let­ting go would morph into a char­i­ta­ble mis­sion on be­half of a lo­cal non­profit that she’s will­ing to repli­cate for oth­ers. So much for slow­ing down. Re­cently, some 200 col­lages – cre­ated un­der Hendler’s guid­ance by about 150 peo­ple with vary­ing lev­els of artis­tic abil­ity, from school chil­dren to se­nior ci­ti­zens – were on dis­play as a fundraiser to ben­e­fit the non­profit Build Fu­tures, an or­gan­i­sa­tion that serves home­less young adults.

With ev­ery room in her house painted a dif­fer­ent colour and dec­o­rated with art pieces she has made or col­lected, Hendler’s Or­ange County home in Cal­i­for­nia, the United States, re­flects her artis­tic pas­sions. So does all the “stuff” for fu­ture art projects socked away in the stu­dio she con­verted from a garage and the packed stor­age unit next to it.

Given her love of the en­vi­ron­ment and the cre­ative po­ten­tial she sees even in a scrap of alu­minum pack­ag­ing, used postage stamps and tea bag pack­ets, Hendler didn’t want to just start dump­ing items in a re­cy­cling bin. In­stead, she em­barked on a project to en­gage the peo­ple around her in cre­at­ing col­lages us­ing her scrap ma­te­rial – art that any­body can do, Hendler fig­ured.

What started with a small group of neigh­bours and friends grew to in­clude com­mu­nity gath­er­ings at the lo­cal art cen­tre. Then came the idea to raise money with the col­lages. Hendler calls it “Col­lage for a Cause”.

“This is about par­tic­i­pa­tion on many dif­fer­ent lev­els by many dif­fer­ent peo­ple from many dif­fer­ent walks of life,” Hendler said.

She ex­plained that many of the peo­ple who cre­ated the col­lages had no art train­ing. They started out un­sure of what they would end up with as she showed them the steps of build­ing a col­lage and such tech­niques as how to tear pic­tures they wanted to use from mag­a­zines for a more artis­tic ef­fect.

But there’s some­thing else be­sides money that was raised: Aware­ness.

“There’s 150 peo­ple who know about this or­gan­i­sa­tion who didn’t know be­fore,” Hendler said of Build Fu­tures, which re­lies strictly on do­na­tions to as­sist home­less young adults ages 18 to 24 to achieve self-suf­fi­ciency, in­clud­ing find­ing work, hous­ing and other life-chang­ing re­sources.

“That’s 150 peo­ple who are more aware and can tell their friends.”

Kathy Til­lot­son, who started Build Fu­tures in 2009 af­ter she re­tired and moved from the East Coast to Or­ange County, sees in­creased aware­ness as be­ing as im­por­tant as what­ever amount of money Col­lage for a Cause might raise.

“Any­thing that can raise aware­ness – we cer­tainly need as much of that as we can get,” said Til­lot­son.

Su­san Mon­dragon, 70, a re­tired sec­re­tary from Hunt­ing­ton Beach parks and re­cre­ation, at­tended two col­lage-mak­ing ses­sions with 17-year-old Han­nah Hallinan of Lake­wood, whom she be­gan babysit­ting more than 10 years ago and con­sid­ers to be like a grand­daugh­ter. Mon­dragon, who has her own line of greet­ing cards and teaches classes once a month on card mak­ing, said she en­joyed Hendler’s in­struc­tion.

“She’s very en­cour­ag­ing. First time we took it I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, what have we got­ten into?’ But she puts all sorts of stuff out and it’s up to you,” said Mon­dragon. “You just took off and did what­ever you wanted to.”

Mon­dragon hadn’t heard of Build Fu­tures be­fore the col­lage ses­sion, but liked the idea of help­ing home­less youth. She and Hallinan do­nated five of the eight col­lages they made: “You kind of want to do a lit­tle bet­ter be­cause you re­alise some­body might buy this.”

An all-vol­un­teer or­gan­i­sa­tion that Til­lot­son con­tin­ues to over­see, Build Fu­tures does not get gov­ern­ment fund­ing. But with com­mu­nity sup­port, the non­profit man­ages to sta­bilise the lives of young peo­ple who have been kicked out of their homes, were just re­leased from jail or ju­ve­nile hall, or strug­gle with men­tal health is­sues or sub­stance abuse. They are held ac­count­able to take re­spon­si­bil­ity and fol­low rules.

“Build Fu­tures is a won­der­ful or­gan­i­sa­tion,” Hendler said. “They don’t hand out the money; they make the kids show up on time, they make them go to school, they have cur­fews. They learn about life.”

Last year, Build Fu­tures housed 125 young adults and, so far this year, 85, Til­lot­son said. It does so with the sup­port of peo­ple like Hendler. “Ju­dith’s a sweet­heart. She al­ways is try­ing to help us.”

Hendler prefers to spot­light the art project rather than dis­cuss her own back­ground. But she shared that she grew up in Los An­ge­les and dealt with her own strug­gles as a young adult, which in­cluded a few years scrap­ing by on the streets be­fore her life took a bet­ter turn.

“I know how these kids feel,” she said of home­less youth. “There’s a lot of stigma at­tached to it.”

Hendler was in­spired and sup­ported by peo­ple she met along the way to be­com­ing a grade school teacher, a graphic artist, an art di­rec­tor and fi­nally some­one whose fash­ion jew­ellery sold in places such as Saks Fifth Av­enue and other high-end stores, graced mod­els for such mag­a­zines as Vogue and Elle, and was worn by ac­tress Joan Collins on TV’s 1980s night­time soap hit Dy­nasty.

In De­cem­ber, Hendler’s work ap­peared on the cover of Teen Vogue, a fit­ting book­end, she said, to a long ca­reer that saw a re­nais­sance in the late 90s when her iconic acrylic jew­ellery be­gan sell­ing as sec­ond­hand vin­tage pieces on the In­ter­net. Hendler had moved to Or­ange County ex­pect­ing to re­tire by then, but rode the wave of that re­vival and con­tin­ued to be in­volved in the world of fash­ion jew­ellery.

Now, with her sec­ond at­tempt at re­tire­ment, Hendler hopes to fo­cus on boost­ing the work of char­i­ties through projects such as Col­lage for a Cause. She said she is will­ing to of­fer her ad­vice and guid­ance for free to any in­ter­ested non­profit.

Jew­ellery de­signer Hendler has shifted her fo­cus to her Col­lage for a Cause project. She helped to guide peo­ple though the cre­ative process, but didn’t tell them what to do. — Pho­tos: TNS

Hendler en­gages the com­mu­nity in cre­at­ing col­lages us­ing some of the art ma­te­ri­als she has col­lected over the years.

Hendler hopes that each artist’s work will be ap­pre­ci­ated.

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