Awe-inspiring artwork from a select group of Sussex Correctional Institution inmates is currently on exhibit at the Millsboro Art League through Feb. 28.

Awe-inspiring artwork from a select group of Sussex Correctional Institution inmates is currently on exhibit at the Millsboro Art League through Feb. 28.

The opening reception will be held on Feb. 8.

Comprised of more than 60 pieces by SCI inmates, the exhibit offers fine art depicting coastal scenes of lighthouses to cartoon illustrations of  Captain America. The works − featuring media in acrylics, charcoal and watercolors − were crafted by 21 inmates who are students in SCI's therapeutic art class.

SCI Master Correctional Counselor Nancy Thomas, who runs the therapeutic art class, says the inmates' opportunity to share their artwork with the public in MAL's gallery has uplifted their spirits, even though they won't be allowed to attend the show.

"I just think it's a very encouraging thing for them to know their talent in the arts is something of value and the people enjoy it," she said.

Last year SCI and MAL held its first art show together, and it was a hit. Attendance for the exhibit doubled that of most of MAL's annual shows. Many of the guests were the inmates' family members.

"We had a very good reception at the Millsboro Art League," Thomas said. "The guys in the class were real excited to get feedback on what people thought of their work. The Millsboro Art League was really encouraging to these guys, and they're really excited to do it again."

'I was overwhelmed'

Last Friday afternoon, MAL members Shayne Meyer and Holland Franks were in gallery chatting about their favorite pieces in the show. Many of the works they were attracted to were by Russell Sullivan, an incredibly versatile artist who's skilled at crafting cartoons and still life.

While Sullivan's life-like illustrations of Frankenstein and the Phantom of the Opera are undeniable, Meyer and Franks unanimously agreed that the best piece in the exhibit is Sullivan's 6-foot tall illustration of Captain America.

"I was overwhelmed, totally," Franks said of when he first laid eyes on the piece. "It's unreal, it really is."

What's more, Thomas says Sullivan creates the majority of his works from memory, and Captain America was no exception.

"He's a very talented cartoonist, and we're so happy to have him in the class because he has a big talent,"she said.

New career in art

Unlike many of his fellow inmates, Sullivan is one of only a few men in the therapeutic art program who had a background in art before getting incarcerated.

"A lot of them never picked up a paint brush or pencil until they went to jail," Thomas said. "The guys in the class are big helps to each other as far as giving advice [on technique]."

SCI's three-hour therapeutic art class is held every Friday afternoon. The class is a popular one in SCI that has a year-and-half waiting list.

Thomas admitted that some in the community have been critical about the inmates spending their time in the art program. But her rebuttal is that the class allows imates to develop their artistic skills, which could potentially help them make an honest living when they're on the outside.

"Most of these guys will leave jail and we want them to leave as better people," Thomas said.

Showing support to the inmates is a major reason why MAL decided to partner with SCI last year, after Thomas inquired if the inmates could display their artwork in MAL's gallery.

MAL Events Chairman Tom Keely said MAL is big on community outreach, which is why the art league decided to partner with SCI. Moving forward, Keely said MAL's collaboration with SCI will grown into an annual exhibit.

"Part of our mission statement is community involvement," he said. "The prison is part of our community."

IF YOU GO

WHAT Millsboro Art League presents Sussex Correctional Institution art exhibit

WHEN Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays; 1 to 3 p.m., Sundays. An opening reception will be held from 2 to 4 p.m., Feb. 8, and the exhibit runs through Feb. 28.

WHERE Millsboro Art League, 203 Main St., Millsboro

COST Free

INFO Visit millsboroartleague.com or call (302) 934-6440