Renowned scholar to discuss prison art

Cellblock Visions For immediate release: Oct. 24, 2011

BLOOMSBURG — Phyllis Kornfeld, author of “Cellblock Visions: Prison Art in America,” will give a lecture Wednesday, Nov. 9, at 7 p.m. in Bloomsburg University’s McCormick Center, room 1303. Her talk will focus on American prison art.

This event, sponsored by the Institute of Human Rights and Social Justice, is free and open to the public.

Kornfeld taught art at various schools before accepting a job to teach at three Oklahoma prisons in 1983. Unsure of what to expect, she was surprised by the pieces inmates created without any training.

She strives to keep prisoners in touch with the spontaneity she first observed in their art. Instead of instructing in formal art theories, she teaches basic skills and offers guidelines, such as no “visual clichés” like broken hearts or “birds shaped like V’s.” Her aim is to let inmates express themselves naturally.

“So many of the prisoners are overtaken with creative force as soon as they get their hands on the materials,” Kornfeld said. “All I have to do is get out of the way.” Phyllis Kornfeld

Prison art encompasses a wide variety of genres. Often limited to what is allowed in their cells, inmates express themselves by carving statues from soap bars using plastic utensils, making paint from juice and candy, weaving empty potato chip bags and numerous other techniques unfamiliar to the general public. Although some of the resulting pieces deal with issues of incarceration, many of the pieces focus inmates’ thoughts and lives beyond the prison walls.

Bloomsburg University is one of 14 universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. The university serves approximately 10,000 students, offering comprehensive programs of study in the colleges of Education, Business, Liberal Arts and Science and Technology.