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Awaken Home Project with Blaine Siegel

The Awaken Home Project, led by artist Blaine Siegel, is funded through the Just Arts program of the Heinz Endowments. Started in January 2020, the project seeks to match newly arrived refugees with local artists who will then create a piece of artwork for their home to help them create a sense of belonging here in Pittsburgh.

So far, three local artists have been paired with three refugee families to create unique pieces based on the stories and experiences of the family. Below are some photos, as well as details shared by lead artist Blaine Siegel.

About the Project

“Awaken Home Project works with recently arrived refugee families in order to help foster a sense of home through the creation of a unique artwork made specifically for them by a Pittsburgh based artist.

The twists and turns of this year have given rise to creativity and ingenuity. The resilience of the human spirit is exemplified by the families and artistic team involved in the inaugural round of AHP. Grateful for the families sharing parts of their stories and lives while teaching us so much. Thank you to the artists for your flexibility and commitment to AHP. [Jenna Vanden Brink] @jennavandenbrink, [Njaimeh Nije] @en_jay_me, [Leah Patgorski] @lpatgo. Thank you for the continued support [JFCS Pittsburgh] @jfcspgh, [Heinz Endowments] @theheinzendowments

These photos are from some of the initial get togethers in the fall, discussions occurred in backyards and parks over lunch and morning coffee. Conversations continued electronically and on hikes in our local parks. The artists are currently in the final stages of creating the finished works. Follow @blainesiegelartist #awakenhomeprojectto see the final artwork.


Njaimeh Nije & the Kachale Family

Here are photographs from one of the Awaken Home Project’s artist/family pairing: the Kachale family working with artist Njaimeh Njie. These are from the day of the art giving.

For the Awaken Home project, Njaimeh Njie made a series of portraits of the Kachale family. The portraits were made right outside of the Kachale’s home. With a white backdrop framing the overlook of a Pittsburgh valley, the setup represents the Kachale’s fresh start here in the city. These images were made into a photo book for the family to keep.

Charles Kachale’s work in a Pittsburgh textile factory served as a key component to the second piece for this project. Njie’s father, Saihou Njie, is a textile artist. The two collaborated to incorporate fabric from the Kachale’s home in Tanzania, with fabric sourced from Charles’ workplace, to create a textile portrait of the family. This final piece is in the tradition of the vibrant backgrounds used in African studio portraiture, but incorporates elements that represent this new chapter of their life. The Njies hope that the Kachale’s can enjoy it, and hang it proudly in their home.


Leah Patgorski & a Syrian Mom & Daughter

For another of the Awaken Home Project pieces, designer Leah Patgorski was paired with an adult mother and daughter from Syria.

In Leah’s words, “From the first conversation of this project, I was excited to participate but nervous about how I would decide what to make for these kind, open, humble and impressive women. After a few meetings I proposed the idea of floor cushions, and they went for it. I would then text them with questions or a sketch, trying to get feedback on color, shape, and stitching pattern. I worked with heavy cotton canvas for the outer shell and dyed it myself with Madder Root to get an earthy pink. The filling was a mix of raw cotton, wool, and scraps of other natural fibers. In addition, I decided to make two for them and one for me, so that we would all share in the results. It was fun to make something I hadn’t tried before, but more than that it has been wonderful to get to know this cool duo. I look forward to staying in touch with them.”


Jenna Vanden Brink & the Khalil Family

For third Awaken Home Project pairing, the Khalil family received a ceramic flower vase and individual cups from ceramicist Jenna Vanden Brink. Upon the initial meeting with the family, Jenna and Blaine Siegel had a picnic lunch in their backyard. They drank tea, broke bread and were taken in by some magic tricks. A flower bed in the backyard and the tea inspired Jenna to make the family this beautiful vase for the flowers and the cups for tea. In return, the family gifted them each this bread (pictured blow). Below are photos of Khalil and Paree who plan to put this plant in the vase until it’s time for flowers.