Clearview senior Danielle Brown honors grandfather in nationally-recognized art piece, ‘Room 109,’ symbolizing the internal and external struggle of Alzheimer’s disease
When the late Charles E. Brown of West Deptford would leave from visiting family or friends, he would point to the door with his wife Janet and say, “all right, let’s head to the capital.” After the World War II Navy veteran passed at the age of 89 on Nov. 13, 2016, his granddaughter Danielle Brown, a Clearview Regional High School senior, made his slogan a reality.
In June, Danielle’s pencil drawing of her grandfather, titled “Room 109,” received national recognition as the first-place piece in this year’s annual Congressional Art Competition, earning the piece a place inside the tunnel connecting the main tour route for visitors to the U.S. Capitol. The drawing will be displayed in Washington, D.C., for one year.
According to the U.S. House of Representatives website, www.house.gov, the Congressional Institute sponsors the art competition each spring to honor artistic talent throughout the country in each congressional district.
“It was amazing, I didn’t expect to come in first place,” Danielle said. “There’s no bigger honor than having your piece placed there.”
Danielle said during her trip to Washington, D.C., for the winner’s reception, she visited state Rep. Frank LoBiondo in office 2427, coincidentally also Brown’s birthday.
“My father didn’t remember a lot but when anyone would ask him, doctors or nurses, ‘what’s your birthday,’ he’d say, ‘2427.’ He remembered that until the day he died,” Danielle’s father Doug Brown said. “When we saw that, I just said, ‘OK, Dad, we know you’re here.’”
Danielle said she began the drawing while her grandfather was still around, having taken a photograph of him in room 109 of Shady Lane Nursing Home in Clarksboro, where he was staying. The drawing, which took between 22 to 26 hours, Danielle said, showed Brown looking down, with pieces of his head floating away, symbolizing his memories and mind through the stages of his disease.
“He’s trying to hold onto the memories and pieces of his mind,” Danielle said. “Most people think it’s just forgetting things, but I wanted to portray the emotional toll it takes. Looking at the drawing, you’re able to feel what it would be like to look at a person feeling like that.”
Once the drawing returns from Washington, D.C., Danielle and her parents hope to give the piece to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America or Alzheimer’s Association to raise awareness or funds for the disease.
“We do walks, we donate money, but this disease is so horrible, what else can we do?” Doug said. “If this could be used by organizations to raise awareness or money, we want to do that, with hopes that people don’t have to suffer how he did, and what the family did. It’s a family disease. We’re doing all we can because he couldn’t.”
Doug said his father described the disease to his wife as a “thunderstorm in his head.” By raising awareness, the family hopes to share how horrendous the disease is, and how the people suffering, as well as their families, need help.
If Brown were still alive to see the finished art piece, Doug said, “he’d be beaming.”
“He probably wouldn’t believe the idea of himself in the nation’s capital,” Doug said. “We can, because anybody that suffers through that deserves to be there.”
Danielle said the piece is part of a mental health series she is working on for school. Alongside “Room 109,” she has drawn images portraying depression, pyromania and post traumatic stress disorder. She will have eight additional pieces complete by the end of the school year.
Looking to the future, Danielle hopes to major in biomedical engineering with a minor in art at her top choice of colleges, Duke University.