Portraits Help Children See Themselves Differently

Published on in CHOP News

November 14, 2012 — A group of artists, young people and medical experts are involved in a groundbreaking project at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia that uses the intimate process of portrait painting to help children and young people with craniofacial problems see themselves in a different light.

For 13-year-old Emily, whose life has been filled with reconstructive surgeries and long stretches away from home, it was a chance “to be me.” For veteran painter Robin Frey, the program was a special chance to marry the technical aspects of her craft with a sense of spirituality.

Blending art and science to help patients

Face to Face: The Craniofacial Program Portrait Project, is an innovative collaboration between the Craniofacial Program at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Studio Incamminati, internationally renowned portrait artist Nelson Shanks’ realist art school. Face to Face is the first of its kind in the U.S. The program assesses the experiences of children and adolescents with craniofacial problems by using a novel intervention — sitting for a portrait. It also scientifically documents the impact of the psychosocial functioning of the participants.

Eight portraits of patients ranging from age 7 to 25 have been completed and plans call for Face to Face to be a continuing project. In addition to adding to the scientific body of knowledge, the paintings will be exhibited publicly in Children’s Hospital Colket Translational Research Building as part of the effort to highlight the challenges and strengths associated with living with a facial disfigurement.

Project collaborators

CHOP doctors

Linton A. Whitaker, MD, senior surgeon at Children’s Hospital, professor of Surgery at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, and director of the school’s Edwin and Fannie Gray Hall Center for Human Appearance; Scott P. Bartlett, MD, chief of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; and David B. Sarwer, PhD, associate professor of psychology in the departments of Psychology and Surgery at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, helped conceive and implement the project. 

Studio Incamminati artists

The artists are Stephen Early, Robin Dawn Frey and Kerry Dunn, instructors at Center City realist art academy Studio Incamminati, and Studio alumnus Debbie Schafer. They were chosen in 2007 after careful screening by Canice E. Crerand, PhD, former psychologist with the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at CHOP.

“This proves the transformative power of art,” said Jay Pennie, executive director of Studio Incamminati. “It reminds us that, beyond our enjoyment of the finished painting, the very act of creating art can have a profound effect on those involved.”

One of the artists, Steve Early added, “I wanted to put the facial differences in the context of the whole person … to catch the spirit and beauty of this child, the hope and energy in her eyes.”

Funding for the project

The project was funded by a grant from The Edwin and Fannie Gray Hall Center for Human Appearance.

More information

Learn more about the Face to Face Portrait Project.


Ashley Moore, Department of Public Relations, 267-426-6071