Face to Face Portrait Project

Face to Face: The Craniofacial Program Portrait Project is the first program of its kind in the United States. Studio Incamminati's artists, in partnership with the Craniofacial Program at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the Edwin and Fannie Gray Hall Center for Human Appearance at the University of Pennsylvania, painted portraits of children and adolescents with craniofacial conditions to help them see themselves in a different light.

Merging art with science

Since the program started, 12 patients with craniofacial conditions, between the ages of 7 and 25 years, have been paired with artists from Studio Incamminati. Psychologists documented each patient's experience of being a portrait subject and measured whether it impacted their psychosocial functioning.

The portraits themselves were completed over multiple sittings which enabled each patient, artist and the patients’ family to develop a unique relationship. Patients and artists collaborated on the composition of the portraits. Patients were able to choose clothes that expressed themselves and to pick out the pose that felt most comfortable to them. Each participant received a framed print of his or her completed portrait.

The artists and patients were interviewed about their experiences with the project before and after the portraits were painted. The exit interviews revealed that the project had a positive impact on how participants felt about themselves, enhancing their resilience and helping them look at themselves in a more positive light. 

Watch the project documentary to learn more about the Face to Face Portrait Project and meet some of the patients, artists and others behind the project.

Why choose children with craniofacial conditions?

Craniofacial problems are complex medical conditions that can disfigure a child's skull, face and head, and affect his ability to speak, breathe, hear and eat. Craniofacial problems can also negatively impact a child's feelings about herself, as well as how she is treated by others. Having a 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. Unfortunately, in our beauty-focused culture, their stories of courage, perseverance and resilience are often overlooked.

Creation of the Face to Face Portrait Project 

The doctors

The project was conceived and developed by two psychologists who are experts in the psychological aspects of plastic surgery, in collaboration with CHOP craniofacial and plastic surgeons:

  • Linton A. Whitaker, MD, 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
  • Scott P. Bartlett, MD, chief, Division of Plastic, Reconstructive and Oral Surgery and director of CHOP’s Craniofacial Program 
  • Canice E. Crerand, PhD, former psychologist with the Division of Plastic, Reconstructive and Oral Surgery at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
  • David B. Sarwer, PhD, psychologist, associate professor of psychology in Psychiatry and Surgery at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

The artists

The artists are members of Studio Incamminati, the Philadelphia realist art school founded by internationally renowned portrait artist Nelson Shanks. Each of the artists underwent extensive screening before being selected to participate in the program. They included:

  • Alisyn Blake
  • Joseph Dolderer
  • Stephen Early
  • Robin Dawn Frey
  • Kerry Dunn 
  • Debbie Schafer
  • Leona Shanks

Portrait exhibit

The first eight completed portraits were exhibited publicly in fall 2010 in the Colket Translational Research Building at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, as part of the effort to highlight the challenges and strengths associated with living with a visible difference. In November 2013, four additional portraits were unveiled, along with a documentary video about the project. Face to Face will continue as an ongoing project.

Funding for the Face to Face program

The Face to Face Craniofacial Program Portrait Project was funded by a grant from the Edwin and Fannie Gray Hall Center for Human Appearance at the University of Pennsylvania.

Craniofacial Patient Daniel

Watch: All About Craniofacial Conditions

Learn about the diagnosis and treatment of craniofacial conditions, including craniosynostosis, hemifacial microsomia, and other syndromes.

craniofacial patient playing basketball

Why Choose the Craniofacial Program

CHOP’s Craniofacial Program is one of the Nation’s leading treatment programs for children with both congenital and acquired anomalies of the face and skull.