Project: Art for the Heart

Phase 4:  The Art of Healthy Choices

Those of us who have the ability to control the factors that go into our personal health and well-being, should be grateful for that freedom.  We should take advantage of it, and make the best choices possible. Many of the artists of the Enrichment Center (EC), and others with disabilities, do not have that freedom or ability, relying on friends, family, and social services to make choices regarding food, activity, environment, etc.

James and Shirley Brizendine are two artists who take full advantage of their freedoms, and make some great choices to enhance their well-being.  James and Shirley have been married for 39 years, and artists at the Enrichment Center for the last 12 years.

Shirley & James Brizendine at the Arts Center, during the "Rescue the Arts" campaign. 2011.
Shirley & James Brizendine at the Arts Center, during the “Rescue the Arts” campaign. 2011.

In addition to spending their days at EC, James and Shirley make decisions to increase their well-being every day.  They are active folks, walking their dog, to the shops in their neighborhood, and to church each Sunday.  At home, James paints and practices guitar, while Shirley draws and makes beaded necklaces.  They count themselves as fortunate that their current home is in a safe neighborhood, and they are close to family who live nearby if they need assistance.  Their neighbors are helpful and friendly, and there is a church within walking distance.  For Shirley, church is an important element of well-being.  For several years, she and James lived in apartments with no church nearby.  Now they walk to church each Sunday. Their blessings are so numerous; James and Shirley may run out of fingers and toes to count them all.

When asked about the first and best heart-healthy change people could make, James says, “Cut out the junk food.”  Shirley adds, “Yeah.  And eat more vegetables.”

Cooking is often a limited option for many people with disabilities.  Working with knives and heating appliances can be dangerous. As a safety precaution, microwave heating of ready-made meals and leftovers may be the full range of cooking options available.  Many people with disabilities rely on family and friends to shop for their groceries, and cook their meals.

James and Shirley do their own shopping, and prepare their own meals.  Lasagna, spaghetti, pizza, soup, carrot cake and cookies, James and Shirley cook almost everything “from scratch”.  They like to cook, and cook together.  It’s not a chore; it’s a privilege.

We asked James to suggest the recipe that they use most:  Peanut Butter Cookies—a treat.


1 cup Shortening (or margarine or butter)
1 cup Brown sugar
2 Eggs
½ cup Peanut butter
1 teaspoon Vanilla
3 cups Flour
1 teaspoon Baking soda
¼ teaspoon Salt


Mix shortening, brown sugar, and eggs. Add peanut butter and vanilla, salt and flour. Roll to size of large marbles. Press slightly with fork and bake in hot oven at 350° for 8-10 minutes or until brown.

James & Shirley Brizendine's recipe for homemade Peanut Butter Cookies

James & Shirley Brizendine’s recipe for homemade Peanut Butter Cookies

The wonderful thing about cooking and baking from scratch, is that you can use ingredients you already have on hand, which may be cheaper, or even… healthier.  James and Shirley substitute margarine or real butter for shortening. If they don’t have enough margarine, they may add more peanut butter. James admits that they run out of brown sugar, which they replace with “white” granulated sugar.  (I substitute egg replacer for the eggs.)

No matter what ingredients you use, these homemade cookies will be free of preservatives, with no extra junk thrown into the mix to make them “chewier,” “fresher,” or “low-fat.”

Cut the "junk" out of your sweet treats. Make them from scratch!

Cut the “junk” out of your sweet treats. Make them from scratch!

What? You don’t like Peanut Butter Cookies? Well then, leave out the peanut butter, reduce the flour to 2 and ¼ cups, and add oatmeal… or chocolate chips… or walnuts… or dried fruit… or whatever you like. Summon your inner artist, and get creative.  Don’t forget to count your blessings, and make healthy choices like James and Shirley.

Project: Art for the Heart

Phase 3:  “Glazing” is painting…

Technically, you’re painting a coating of silica-based fluid (glaze), which, when fired in the kiln, will fuse to the surface of the clay heart… now you know why we just refer to it as glazing.

From our first glazing workshop. Glazing is just painting. Harrison chose his heart, his colors, and his brushes. Photo by Melissa Kelly-Ortega

From our first glazing workshop. Glazing is just painting. Harrison chose his heart, his colors, and his brushes. Photo by Melissa Kelly-Ortega

When you spend as many hours as we do surrounded by art, making art, promoting art, talking about art, art becomes such a natural part of your speech and action, that you may forget the large number of people who may perceive art as being slightly foreign– a special skill, unique only to those gifted with a sense of creative genius.  Not so!!

When you ask people who feel that way to engage in artmaking, many of them may imagine that you are asking them to do something they aren’t qualified to do… like auto repair, networking the office computers, catering a wedding, or teaching high school math.

For this project, especially given the short time we have before it concludes, convincing people that they are fully qualified to participate has been important, and involved making a few assurances:

1. You don’t have to worry about your skills.  We will introduce you to the materials, how to use them, and be there to provide assistance and answer questions.

2. We’ve set it up so that it is only as complex as you want it to be.

3. It doesn’t matter how you paint the heart, as long as you paint the heart– whether you spend 2 hours perfecting every detail, or 2 minutes applying slapdash one-color coverage.

Answers to other questions people have had are:

  1. The funds we collect will be going to the Mercy Foundation to be used in the Cardiac Rehab department, to help people with heart disease who do not have a way to pay for their rehab.
  2. You should give yourself about 1 hour to select and glaze your heart.  Those who have come in expecting to do it in 30-45 minutes tend to run out of time.
  3. The glaze goes on looking very chalky, but firing reveals the vibrant color and glossy texture.
  4. Drop-ins are acceptable, but reservations are a good idea.  If you drop in, and there is no more space, you may have to wait.
  5. We do not have a credit card machine. We accept cash and checks.
  6. The cost is a $10 donation per heart.  We also have a few small hearts, which were designed to be glazed as a pair for $10, but which may be glazed individually for $5.

Fortunately, except in rare circumstances (usually involving a professional artist who is trying to become rich and famous, or doesn’t learn from his/her mistakes), there is no failure in art.  It is what it is.  Most artists will tell you that mistakes are gifts you give to yourself.  Making a mistake, you will either learn a valuable lesson—how not to do something, or you will learn something new—how to do something you didn’t intend to do… but will totally try again.

Glazing workshops:

Saturday, January 19th          10am – 1pm

Saturday, January 19th          5 – 8pm (ART HOP!)

Tuesday, January 22nd          4 – 6pm

Saturday, January 26th         10am – 1pm

Wednesday, January 30th     5 – 6pm

Saturday, February 2nd         10am – 1pm

All workshops are at the Enrichment Center in Room 1, on the 3rd floor of the Multicultural Arts Center– 645 W. Main St. Merced

Project: Art for the Heart

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Putting the pieces together is difficult when your partnership doesn’t yet have partners.  We knew we wanted to work with Mercy Medical Center, but we didn’t have any contacts there.  Our good friends Monika Modest and Melissa Kelly-Ortega came to our rescue, providing awesome contacts.  Now we’re collaborating!

We wanted to work with American Heart Association, but they no longer have a local chapter.  It was important to keep the funds we raise local, so we’re working with our new partner– Mercy Medical Center– to identify a great organization to use our funds– promoting and advocating for healthy hearts, and supporting people making heart-healthy changes.  Now, on to the workshops!

This is a link to the poster, if you’d like to print or share it:  Art for the Heart 2013 poster 02

Project: Art for the Heart

PHASE 1: Preparing Clay Hearts…

Pounding, rolling, slabbing.  Cutting, smoothing, drying.  In late November 2012, the artists of the Enrichment Center began preparing clay hearts for a project to promote health and wellness in the New Year.

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Artist Denise Saelee carefully smoothing clay hearts for the Enrichment Center’s collaborative project Art for the Heart. December 2012.


Artist Richard Chavez cutting hearts from clay in preparation for the Enrichment Center’s collaborative project Art for the Heart. December 2012.

Sadly, most of us have lost someone we care about to a heart-related illness.  The New Year is the natural time for reflection and making changes for a better year.  Health and wellness generally top the list of areas where we focus those changes.  The artists and staff of the Enrichment Center, like everyone else, recognize the changes we could make to promote our own heart health.  We also recognize the therapeutic qualities of the arts, and thought it was about time to make our own collaboration with the local health community.

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These hearts have been dried and stacked, waiting to be loaded into the kiln for firing to bisque– the stage when clay can be glazed. December 2012.

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Clay hearts drying on shelves in the EC kiln room. Hearts on the top shelf are dry enough to fire, while hearts on the lower shelves are still too wet. Another week and they’ll all be ready. December 2012.

The artists worked throughout December to make hundreds of clay hearts for the Art for the Heart project.  People are invited to glaze a heart for a $10 donation, with proceeds going to a local organization which promotes heart-health, and assists people with making healthy changes.  As part of glazing their heart, participants will be encouraged to dedicate their heart to something meaningful– a loved one lost to heart disease, a personal commitment to change unhealthy habits, or some other goal that will improve their health and well-being.

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The first batch of clay hearts for the Enrichment Center’s collaborative project Art for the Heart. The kiln was fired the day before. Once we were sure we wouldn’t burn our faces off while opening it, the lid was propped open to allow them to cool.

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Clay hearts sitting on the edge of the kiln during unpacking.

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Over 300 hearts, just unpacked from the kiln after firing to bisque. They’re ready for glazing during the Enrichment Center’s collaborative Art for the Heart project. January 2013.

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This is just a sample of the clay hearts we’re offering for glazing to raise money for heart-health and a healthy New Year, with our collaborative Art for the Heart project. January 2013.

The first batch of over 300 dried clay hearts was fired to bisque in the kiln this week, and are now ready for glazing.  Though clients used a general size template, each heart is different.  Since we have sooooo many, there should be no lack of choices– a heart for everyone.

Contact the Enrichment Center for more information, and to sign up for a glazing workshop. Art for the Heart!