Cece Dobbertin ʼ22 hadn’t talked with someone new in a long time when she met Susan, a teacher with Learning in Style, a school for adult immigrants and refugees living in the Twin Cities. “It was really wonderful to get to know someone outside of Blake and outside of my immediate circle,” Cece says about Susan, with whom she was paired this fall as part of an art class project.

Over the course of four sessions, Cece and Susan—along with other Blake/Learning in Style pairings—got to know each other by asking questions and sharing stories. The Blake students then drew and matted a portrait of their partner, which they presented to the portrait subjects at their final meeting.

“Seeing the reactions of all the participants receiving their portrait was truly something I feel like I will remember forever,” Elle Sovell ʼ23 says. “Seeing their faces light up was heartwarming and it was evident that the drawings really meant something to them emotionally.”

That emotional response is the point of Art as Gift, a project Bill Colburn ʼ88, with the help of Service Learning Director Lisa Sackreiter, presents to his students in Advanced Drawing: Human Condition. In the class, students make connections with members of nonprofit communities, and as the relationships develop so too do the portraits—gifts to all involved.

Some of this year’s artists share their reflections on the experience:

“The conversations I had with Lucy were a surprise to me; I didn’t expect to create such a connection with her. Hearing her stories and telling her about my life made this experience very special. The positivity that Lucy expressed every time we met made me even more excited to see her each time!” —Cleo Kilpatrick ʼ24 

“I had the opportunity to draw one of the [Learning in Style] student’s kids. Watching her interact and play with her toys as I drew her was very eventful, and I was able to observe her spunky personality! She also had the brightest smile and said the funniest little comments that made my day!” —Greta Wattson ʼ23

“Getting to meet Akuvi and learn about her life was such an amazing experience. We discussed a lot of things, but the most interesting fact I learned about her was that she is able to speak four different languages! I’m so happy that I had the opportunity to experience this art project because I never would have thought to do something like this by myself.” —Cole Herron ʼ22

See the completed portraits and photos from the class meetings and watch a video about the Art as Gift class project by Payton Smith ‘24.