The Least Among Us

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FORT WAYNE, IND. (WPTA21)-They are the least among us, the homeless, the penniless, their worldly possessions contained in a garbage bag or shopping cart. We look the other way when we spot them, never look into their eyes, never see them. And that’s a shame because we’re missing something.

“The life you see etched into their faces…you have to be moved.,” says Fort Wayne Art Museum director Charles Shepard. “He does not shortcut anything.”

A celebration of society’s invisible people is being hosted by the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, life size charcoal drawings of San Francisco’s homeless people by artist Joel Daniel Phillips who finds in his subjects a dignity the rich and powerful might envy. Phillips lives in San Francisco’s

notorious Tenderloin District, engages the homeless on its streets, photographs them and recreates their likeness in his studio. And we shouldn’t be surprised by what he finds. This is Clarence, bent but not broken, he walks with a cane, his weathered hands and face a road map of a hard life. Tinesha and Brian are a couple who found each other on the street. A sweet innocence in her face, a guarded defiance in his, they cling to each other for the comfort all humans require. And Victoria, cheerful and sassy, no trace of bitterness on her face from what life has handed her.

“These people all look very interesting I’d like to talk with them,” says visitor Ron Kysiak. “If nothing else I’m going to look more closely at these people when I see them.” ‘This exhibit has changed you?’ we ask. “That’s part of what art’s about. It’s supposed to change you otherwise it’s not really art.”

Joel Daniel Phillips has done for us what we refuse to do for ourselves, peer down at the bottom of the social ladder and found those staring back to be just like us getting by as best they can. Sadly it’s doubtful our attitude toward the homeless will change anytime soon. That will likely be left to another generation.

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