- The Washington Times - Monday, November 12, 2001

Larry Quick grew up in a world filled with violence, drugs and disappointment. So he created his own world, drawing his modest utopia on a sketch pad."I started to draw things I wanted to see family, a house, pets. I could create an image as if I had these things," Mr. Quick says. "This was the closest I could have to getting them. I was creating a world that didn't exist but I wanted it to exist."
His artwork, and the devotion of his grandmother, spared him the kind of life that ends in a newspaper police blotter, or worse, the obituaries.
Now, Mr. Quick uses his life lessons to teach others growing up in similar conditions.
His 4-year-old nonprofit group, Life Pieces to Masterpieces (LPTM), gathers District-area boys from difficult backgrounds to teach them about positive living and respect all through the medium of art.
Mr. Quick, who grew up in public housing near LPTM's Southeast offices, is proof art can transform more than just blank canvases into something of beauty.
Mr. Quick didn't play sports growing up. Instead, he stayed home and sketched.
"I was communicating but not knowing it," he says.
As a teen-ager, though, he embraced boxing, feeding off the sport's discipline while continuing his art.
He told no one of his artistic side.
"The drawing was something I kept to myself," says Mr. Quick, whose chiseled features appear unmarked by his pugilistic past. That decision, in part, protected him from friends who might see him as less masculine for being an artist.
He eventually abandoned boxing and went to the Corcoran School of Art, where his art flourished. He wasn't sure exactly what kind of career he would pursue, though.
"It didn't all click until my senior thesis," he says, a time when he was trying to find a signature artistic style.
Among the many skills and life lessons taught to him by his grandmother was the ability to sew. He used that to combine some of his painted canvases into an impromptu quilt, a technique his students would later employ.
After graduating from art school with a bachelor of fine arts degree in 1997, he began LPTM to positively shape young people's minds and hearts through mentoring, values instruction and art.
Children, he says, have always seen him as an ally.
"When I walk around, children just come to me," says Mr. Quick, who greets the program's students eagerly, modulating his speech patterns for younger ears. "I listen to them, and kids love artists."
Maurice Kie, a 15-year-old LPTM student, says the program "prepares you for life."
The Southeast teen-ager has basketball on his mind these days, not to mention a potential career in journalism. He says the program helps encourage his "nonstop studying" in a nurturing environment.
"It's like your house. You know everyone and you don't have to be scared of anything," he says.
And the art lessons differ dramatically from those he has taken in the past.
"At school, you have guidelines you have to go by. It's boring," he says. "Here, when you paint, you can paint based on your feelings."
Mr. Quick, along with a team of seven LPTM employees, currently oversees 35 children, up from an initial core of seven students.
For now, the program is for boys only. He wants them to see that other role models exist, beyond those who score touchdowns or hit mammoth home runs, he says.
He instills values, in part, through a modified color wheel that associates strong character traits with different hues.
Each LPTM student dons a "Shield of Faith" badge, a color wheel upon which is printed principles like giving, leadership, discipline and loving.
A system of colored patches also helps maintain order. Patches are earned through exemplary behavior and taken away by breaking Mr. Quick's behavioral commandments, like running in the halls. Rewards include trips to local museums, bowling alleys and movie theaters.
He sees the children "as much as possible," as he puts it. "I have to compete with everything they have to compete with," he says of the influences in their lives.
"We feed them. They don't go home. They come straight here [after school]," he says. "They do homework, then meditate."
Part of LPTM's mission is to break bread with the children.
"Eat as much as you want," he tells them. "That's love to them."
Lawrence Ukenye, manager of Three Brothers Italian Restaurant in Bladensburg, says teen-age boys entering his shop usually take liberties with napkin holders, scramble around the dining area or generally act in a rambunctious manner.
Not the LPTM children, Mr. Ukenye says.
"They've been coming here for years and years," he says. "When they come in, they put the tables together, wipe down the tables and take away the trash."
"Everybody asks, 'What is Larry teaching these kids?'" Mr. Ukenye says.
In between art lessons, older students engage each other in chess matches. Young visitors sprawl on the floor, playing memory card games.
"We keep bringing them together, otherwise they don't share," he says of the bonds formed.
"Some secrets are kept hidden," he says of his students, some of whom deal with poverty, drug-addled guardians or molestation.
"A lot of kids have been hurt so much," says Mr. Quick, a member of the Commission on Black Men and Boys, a local group funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, which identifies sources of available government, private sector and community aid for black men and boys. "If you look for the gift in the challenge, you look to the next challenge [and] we find the beauty in ugliness."
But the work of the young artists is far from unattractive. The crude, energized canvases evoke themes of violence, fractured communication and a maturity that exceed the young artists' years.
One painting, titled "What What What," looks at an escalating conversational tone that can spill over into violence. The third "what," Mr. Quick explains, is the final utterance before action begins.
Not everyone sees the benefits art can have in school in a time of shrinking school budgets.
Thomas Hatfield, executive director of the Reston-based National Art Education Association, says that when school districts look for places to trim their budgets, art programs often suffer the economic sling blade.
Mr. Hatfield argues that art classes serve a valuable purpose in young students' lives.
"The unique thing you get in art you learn knowledge and skills you don't learn anywhere else. They're unique forms of communication," he says.
Mr. Quick also shares his artistic philosophy with students at Thurgood Marshall Academy, a public charter high school in Southeast that opened this year. He teaches at the school twice a week.
Principal Joe Feldman says Mr. Quick's students are trained as any other artist might be.
"He tries to engender with them the emotions and motivations that artists have," Mr. Feldman says. "He helps them express themselves positively and productively."
"It's very significant that his background is similar to a lot of his students," Mr. Feldman adds. "They feel they have a kindred spirit in him."
It's too short a time to see measurable benefits to Mr. Quick's approach, but Mr. Feldman says the open lines of communication represent "a step in itself."
LPTM children display their work through Mr. Quick's office and surrounding hallways, as well as schools and community centers around the District. Their canvases also have graced the Corcoran Gallery of Art.
Mr. Quick says art is more than just an appealing swatch of paint on canvas. It applies to every aspect of life.
"There's art in the way you cook, do math, do anything," he says.


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