Making a difference through art
From tracing animals at age 3, to transforming paper into origami when she was 6 to, recently, illustrating female faces with watercolors, 14-year-old MeiLan Wechsler has always expressed herself through art.
But she doesn't produce art for its own sake. MeiLan uses her natural talent to help solve some of the preeminent problems of our time: wildlife extinction, gun violence, world hunger and environmental dilapidation.
Customers can purchase her work, which includes decorated greeting cards, seashell necklaces and watercolors paintings, on the Multnomah artist's website at meilanart.org/ and all proceeds go toward nonprofits specializing in the aforementioned causes.
"There really wasn't a second thought to giving the money away," MeiLan said. "It was something we knew we wanted to do."
When she was 6, MeiLan declared that she wanted to help the poor — but she didn't know how or what specific causes she would support. While watching a news segment depicting starvation in Somalia, a light bulb clicked on in her head. With the help of her parents, Wechsler raised money for the World Food Program by selling bookmarks to members of the Hillsdale Community Church. The following year, she raised $2,600 for the food program.
"It's a really good feeling when you see everything that you've done and given away," MeiLan said.
Lately, her art has grown more sophisticated and her mission has expanded.
In her current initiative, called the S.E.E.D project, she drew endangered species such as pandas and penguins onto greeting cards, created jewelry out of colorful shells she found on the beach and painted intricate and multifaceted drawings of female faces. She's also produced stamps and stickers. Her watercolor pieces are her favorite.
"I think female faces are all unique. The shapes of them, the composition can be moved and shifted in different ways," MeiLan said.
In August, the money she received through the program went toward the Oregon Zoo Foundation and she will later support nonprofits that advocate for gun control, environmental protection and ending world hunger. She chose the causes based on the problems she deems to be most significant. And MeiLan is thoughtful in how she discusses the interconnectivity between her artwork and the social issues she champions. For instance, she said art can inspire empathy and care.
"Sometimes people debate whether we should really be working to save endangered animals or would it really matter if they weren't here and I think if you can appreciate them, it would give you reasons to protect them," MeiLan said.
The Wechslers have appreciated the Hillsdale Community Church's support and are trying to extend MeiLan's audience beyond the church, which is why they set up a stand at the annual Multnomah Days event in Multnomah Village within the Kids Zone section.
"Having the support of people who know her has been really encouraging. They're always her best customers. Now we're trying to break out into other venues and where can we really promote this because it's such a good cause," MeiLan's mother Theresa Wechsler said.
MeiLan will attend Wilson High next year and is looking forward to learning wood carving and glass blowing inside and outside of school.
Theresa doesn't have the artistic gene but has encouraged MeiLan to follow her passion. Suffice it to say, she's extremely proud of her daughter's generous spirit and the positive impact she's had at such a young age.
"As a parent I'm overwhelmingly proud and blown away by the art and what she's doing with it," Theresa said.
And Theresa is excited to find out what lies ahead.
"We're wondering. Is she going to run a nonprofit? Is she going to go to art school? It would be interesting to combine those things," she said.