Retired art teacher launches initiative to donate paintings to Queens’ formerly homeless

Sheila Blunt (1)
Photos by Suzanne Monteverdi/QNS

When artist and retired teacher Sheila Blunt began going through a closet filled with decades of her original work this past winter, she knew she didn’t have the space to hold onto every single painting; but she also couldn’t bring herself to see them thrown away.

It was then, drawing on her experience as an arts educator, Blunt had an idea. The Holliswood resident would save her paintings and donate them to previously homeless families, who may want to decorate their new homes but are unable to afford it.

The artist quickly got to work. A friend referred Blunt to a group that works with homeless families in western Queens. After connecting with the group, she donated 13 framed paintings; 11 of them found new homes.

“I felt good about that,” Blunt told QNS in an interview at the Pink Lily Bakeshop in Kew Gardens. “As soon as somebody got into an apartment, [an employee] would invite them down to the office and offer them a painting for their new apartment. That was my whole concept.”

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Looking to continue with the initiative, Blunt reached out to Queens-based nonprofit The River Fund to see if they were interested in taking any paintings to offer to local low-income families. Blunt worked with the organization in the past in concert with Kew Gardens mainstay The Potters Wheel, where she works on her art at least three days a week.

River Fund founder Swami Durga Das was “very enthusiastic,” and offered to send a truck to Blunt’s home for pickup.

“Art is dear to [Das’] heart, so he said, ‘Sure,'” Blunt said. “The organization comes in contact with low-income families all the time through its different programs.”

Blunt reached out to members of her art organization, Douglaston’s The National Art League, to seek additional donations. Soon, seven other local artists were involved, contributing paintings and drawings from their original collections.

Two shipments have already been delivered to The River Fund.

Today, Blunt is looking for more artists willing to donate original works ready to mount on a wall. She’s also looking for local framing businesses interested in helping her ready any unframed works for donation.

“If I’m somebody who has been painting all my life and have a closet full of old paintings, I guarantee you there are other people like me,” she said.

Originally from Pennsylvania, Blunt moved to New York as a young adult seeking to get involved in the local art scene. In her near-40 year career as a teacher, she taught at various schools in Nassau County before her retirement 18 years ago.

Blunt works on a piece at The Potters Wheel
Blunt works on a piece at The Potters Wheel

“This [initiative] really matches with my mission in life as an art teacher all these years: to inspire students and to make them love art,” she said. “That’s really my motivation for this.”

Those interested in donating to Blunt’s cause can reach out to her via email at rockypots[at]nyc.rr.com.

“My plan is to be swamped with so many paintings that I have to spread them all over New York,” Blunt said with a smile. “This art can provide a sense of ownership. It’s a dressing — it does nothing to improve their financial standing — but it really can bring some joy to a person.”