To Ukraine with love: Brookhaven sunflower exhibit is art from the heart for war-torn nation
Maureen Pouder believes in sunflower power.
The Brookhaven Town art instructor sought a way to show support for Ukraine and its besieged citizens, so she enlisted her students and other local painters to create original paintings featuring the war-torn eastern European country’s national plant.
About 50 artists responded with dozens of paintings that express solidarity and hope for a country in turmoil.
"Everybody is so shook up with what’s happening in the world," Pouder, 63, told Newsday. "I just thought it might be nice to get people’s minds off that. Sunflowers are beautiful, and hopefully we can shed some beauty on this world."
The paintings — including acrylics, watercolors and oils — will be on exhibit starting Monday at Brookhaven Town Hall in Farmingville.
The project started about two weeks ago and quickly produced paintings with vibrant colors in a wide variety of styles. Some pieces show individual flowers; others are of sunflowers growing outside farmhouses or placed in vases.
The artists, whose ages range from 40 to 94, said Ukraine’s people reminded them of flowers that bend in the breeze, but don’t break.
That’s why Diane Greenberg’s painting depicts a garden of sunflowers, highlighted by a tall one in the center that towers over all the others. That one, she said, symbolizes Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
"The wind won’t blow it over," said Greenberg, 75, of Wading River. "It’s a strong stem that shows it’s upright."
Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner said she hoped the exhibit would be a "showcase for actually advocating for peace" and said the art would be on display indefinitely.
"You can’t escape this," she said of the war that started Feb. 24. "It’s completely on our minds, whether it’s because we’re standing in solidarity with the people of Ukraine or we’re feeling the effects through the economy. When Maureen reached out, it was really, really a no-brainer to be in support of local artists in showing their sunflowers in support of Ukraine."
The exhibit’s centerpiece is a 36x40-inch watercolor to which all the artists contributed. Pouder, who lives in Miller Place, hopes to sell it after the exhibition, with proceeds to go to a Ukrainian charity.
Pouder said she used metal she found to form part of a sunflower head in her multimedia piece, "Sunflowers for Peace." She said the project helps her and her students respond to a tragedy half a world away.
"Everybody, all the seniors, they’re so upset," she said. "If we can do something good for people, that’s always a plus-plus."
Claire Siegel, 94, of Patchogue, titled her painting "Innocence." It portrays a girl tending flowers by a wall that Siegel said shields her from war’s horrors on the other side.
Siegel, who said she has family members who fought in World War I and II, said the painting reflects the despair she felt upon seeing yet another conflict unfold.
"During my lifetime, how many wars I’ve been through," she said. "I just feel somewhere, someone should have a moment of innocence to grow up. I hate to see another child grow up with a war."