Face to Face: The Craniofacial Program Portrait Project

Studio Incamminati artists, in partnership with The Craniofacial Program at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the Edwin and Fannie Gray Center for Human Appearance at the University of Pennsylvania, have joined in a groundbreaking program using the intimate process of portrait painting to help young people with craniofacial conditions see themselves in a different light.

Face To Face: The Craniofacial Program Portrait Project is the first of its kind in the United States.

It assesses the experiences of children and adolescents with craniofacial conditions by using a novel intervention—sitting for a portrait. It also scientifically documents the impact of the psychosocial functioning of the participants. Patients between the ages of 7 and 25 years with craniofacial conditions were paired with artists from Studio Incamminati. Psychologists documented each child's experience as a portrait subject and measured the psychosocial impact.

The portraits are completed over multiple sittings enabling each subject, artist and the subject's’ family to develop a strong relationship. Patients and artists collaborate on everything from the portrait's composition to the clothes and the pose. While the original portraits spend time between Children's Hospital and selected exhibitions, each subject receives a framed print of the completed portrait. 

The artists and subjects are interviewed in-depth about their experiences with the project before and after the portraits are painted. Exit interviews reveal that the project has a positive impact on the participants' self-image, enhancing their resilience and helping them to see themselves in a more positive light. Twelve portraits have been completed in the continuing project with more planned. In addition to adding to the scientific body of knowledge, in an effort to highlight the challenges and strengths associated with living with a visible difference the paintings are exhibited publicly at Children's Hospital and at selected venues.

Craniofacial problems are complex medical conditions that can disfigure a child's skull, face and head, and affect his or her ability to speak, breathe, hear and eat. Craniofacial problems also can negatively impact a child's feelings about themselves, as well as how they are treated by others. Facial disfigurement can make a child vulnerable to: poor self-esteem, body image dissatisfaction, depression, social anxiety, isolation, social rejection and discrimination.

Despite this, children with these conditions show resilience and strength. They strive to return normalcy to their lives by going to school, playing sports, exploring interests and spending time with friends and family—often while coping with major surgeries and other therapies throughout their childhood and adolescence. In our appearance-focused culture, their stories of courage, perseverance and resilience are often overlooked. Face to Face seeks to tell their stories.



The Organizations

Studio Incamminati, School for Contemporary Realist Art, is one of the foremost educational institutions of its kind. It was founded in 2002 by renowned artists Nelson Shanks and his wife, Leona.

The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia was the first pediatric hospital in the United States. It is famous for its exceptional patient care and major research.

Edwin and Fannie Gray Hall Center for Human Appearance is the first interdiscplinary academic center dedicated to appearance-related disorders and quality of life. It was founded by surgeon Dr. Linton Whitaker at the University of Pennsylvania in 1988.

The Artists

Alisyn Blake Alisyn, a Studio Incamminati graduate, has had her work exhibited in Europe and the United States including at The National Arts Council, the School of Visual Arts Museum, The National Arts Club and the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra galas. Her commissioned works hang in several private collections including those of Debbie and Andrew Webster.

Joseph Dolderer Joseph was awarded second place and purchase price in Art Renewal Center's prestigious and competitive International Salon Competition. A Studio Incamminati graduate, his artwork was selected for the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith’s “teaching wall” designed to demonstrate the painting process to young artists there. He has exhibited in numerous shows and his commissions include Louis Scaglione, president and music director of the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra.

Kerry Dunn Kerry joined Studio Incamminati at its inception, after studying with Nelson Shanks. He is a school graduate who also teaches in the school’s In Your Town off-site workshops. Kerry, named "One of 25 Artists of Tomorrow” by American Artist magazine, had his self-portrait named Best in Show in the Portrait Society of America’s International Portrait Competition. He has earned numerous other awards and his work and teaching methods have been featured in art publications. Kerry's art is in many group exhibitions and private collections.

Stephen Early Steve, a Studio Incamminati graduate, was chosen one of “12 Artists to Watch in 2012” by American Artist magazine. He has been recognized several times by the Portrait Society of America and was a faculty member at the society’s annual conference. His art was chosen for the George Lucas project “Star Wars: Visions.” A School instructor, Steve also taught at American Artist magazine’s “Weekend with the Masters Intensive: New York City.” His work has been included in numerous group exhibitions and in many private collections. Steve joined Studio Incamminati at its inception after serving as Nelson Shanks’ assistant.

Robin Frey Robin, a Studio Incamminati graduate and instructor, had her work juried into Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Art Clubs 115th Annual Juried Exhibition at The National Arts Club. She received an Honor Award in the Portrait Society of America’s Portrait Competition and previously earned a National Conference Scholarship from the society. Her work is featured in the book “Portrait Painting Atelier: Old Master Techniques and Contemporary Applications.”  She has exhibited in numerous shows and her work is included in many private collections.

Deborah Schafer Debbie's artwork ranges from classic representational renderings and portraiture to medical illustration and cartoons. She has served as an art instructor and art therapist. Her award-winning works have been exhibited nationally and internationally. Debbie used her cartoonist skills as part of a USO tour entertaining U.S. Troops in Iraq and Kuwait.

Leona Shanks  Leona, who co-founded Studio Incamminati with husband Nelson and is graduate of the school, has been recognized several times in the Still Life Category of the Art Renewal Center's International Salon Competition. Her solo exhibition, Searching the Soul, was featured at Dacia Gallery in New York and  she placed first in juried competition of Inspiring Figures: American Women and Figurative Art at The Butler Institute of Contemporary Art. Her paintings have been included in numerous exhibitions and her work is included in many private collections. An accomplished sculptor, Leona won the Edmund Stewardson Award for Sculpture.

The Doctors

David B. Sarwer, PhD, is a psychologist and associate professor of psychology in Psychiatry and Surgery at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

Scott P. Bartlett, MD, is chief, Division of Plastic Surgery and director of CHOP’s Craniofacial Program.

Linton A. Whitaker, MD, is founder of the Craniofacial Program, professor of plastic surgery at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, and founder and director of the Center for Human Appearance.