In the 1990’s, before the “new” Gualala Arts Center was built at its current location, local artist Wendy Bailey was deeply impacted by the artwork she was asked to install in an exhibit of paintings and drawing by inmates of San Quentin, entitled “Death Row Art”. In spite of being convicted of violent crimes for which they had received death sentences, the prisoners had produced art that was thoughtful, creative and surprisingly sophisticated in technique and concept. This was not Wendy’s first exposure to prisoner art. When she was a child, her father had taught Auto Mechanics at Tehachapi State Prison, preparing the inmates for future employment once they were released. Ms. Bailey remembers a visit to the Prison Gift Shop, which featured arts and crafts by the inmates, and the hand-made gifts her father occasionally brought home for her.
Two decades after the Death Row Art show, revisiting the idea of an exhibit of prisoner art, Ms. Bailey contacted Leslie Lakes, a professional artist in Marin County who founded and is director of the non-profit Prison Arts Touching Hearts (P.A.T.H.). Ms. Lakes was first introduced to artwork by incarcerated artists in 2005, when she bid on several pieces being auctioned in the Fifth Annual Inmate Art Auction, sponsored by The Fortune Society of NYC. Ms. Lake states, “…when I finally received the artwork in the mail, I was so blown away by the sheer talent that I requested to write back to the respective artists to share and show my appreciation. Over the years, I have had the unique opportunity and pleasure to get to know many of these incredibly talented individuals. Hence, P.A.T.H. was formed from the heart; a labor of love and from my long-standing desire to create a platform to showcase their incredible artistic talent. P.A.T.H. is also designed to provide a platform for a much needed voice and validation to incarcerated artists – those in the shadows and largely hidden to the public eye, while providing them with a vehicle to give back to the community in a meaningful and powerful way – through their art!“
Ms. Lakes receives artworks from a variety of institutions, and promotes the artists by displaying their artwork in venues such as the Marin Civic Center. A recent exhibit she installed at Alcatraz, entitled “Art Escape at Alcatraz”, will travel cross-country to be shown at Tennessee’s Alcatraz East Museum in 2019. Sales of the art work goes to support prison art programs and provide funds for much-needed prisoner art supplies. In addition to her work with prisoners, Ms. Lake also holds Teddy Bear Parties, working with other charities to provide Teddy Bears for the children of those who are incarcerated.
See other works by incarcerated artists at prisonartstouchinghearts.org.