Baha'i News -- Drawing on a voice of reason Saturday, September 21, 2002

Drawing on a voice of reason

By DEAN SHALHOUP
shalhoupd@telegraph-nh.com



Photo by Bob Hammerstrom
Alhan Irwin of Nashua with the book she wrote and illustrated,
A local artist and graphic illustrator, inspired by the increasing diversity of the Nashua area and the changes in many Americans’ feelings toward foreigners since last year’s terrorist attacks, has come up with an idea she hopes will help keep young children’s minds prejudice-free and make them feel more comfortable around people of different nationalities.

Tangibly, it’s a 7-by-7-inch paperback booklet geared toward ages 5 through 8. But for Alhan Irwin, it’s a labor of love.

Irwin, a 40-something Nashua resident of 16 years and an accomplished artist through the use of computer graphics and digital imaging, has written and illustrated "The Case of a Different Face," the rhyming story of Mina, a young girl from India who moves to America and tries, unsuccessfully at first, to fit in with the other kids.

As much as Irwin knows about illustration, she’s more familiar with diversity, and what it’s like to move to a place where she’s not like everyone else.

She came to America with her brother and sister 23 years ago to find religious freedom, she said, something they didn’t have in their native country in the Middle East. Concerned for the safety and future of her relatives, she said she prefers to keep her actual home country anonymous.

Irwin is a member of the Baha’i faith, a worldwide religion that worships only one God, believes all religions share a common foundation and that people of all races, nations, economic groups and religious backgrounds are equal.

It’s her faith, she said, that inspired the theme for her book.

"I get a lot of ideas and inspiration for my artwork through my faith," she said.

During her time in Nashua, where she lives with her husband, Bob, and two high school-age children, Irwin said she has seen the population become increasingly diverse. Her next-door neighbors, for example, are from India – she consulted them on the finer details of Indian culture for the book.

The book came off the presses just three weeks ago, and Irwin doesn’t plan to let it sit around. Next month, she said, she will contact elementary schools – "as many as I can get to," she said – to introduce her book, and she hopes it can be used in the curriculum for kindergarten through second or third grades.

"The Case of a Different Face" will also begin smiling down from the shelves of bookstores both large and small if Irwin has her way.

Irwin believes nobody is born fearing or disliking others because of their race or nationality.

"I know little children have no prejudice. But their minds can get polluted. My idea is to go around and spread diversity – to show them that a garden with many different colors of flowers brings much beauty, rather than something to be afraid of," she said, forming an analogy obviously from an artist’s vocabulary.

A member of the Nashua Artists Association, Irwin has shown her work in the group’s exhibits, but because the association doesn’t yet recognize digitally produced work, she said she isn’t allowed to enter judging.

She created posters with computer programs on the theme of a united, diverse America as part of an association project. One hangs in the Nashua Public Library, and two others are displayed in Mayor Bernie Streeter’s office in City Hall.

But Irwin was very artistically inclined far before computers were around.

"I’ve had the talent since I was a kid," she said. "My family always said I was the artistic one. Today, I’m very glad to be able to use the latest technology to express myself."

She attended the visual arts program nights at Nashua’s Rivier College, learning how to use computer programs and studying animation.

When she’s not calling upon her expansive imagination to create her own art, Irwin teaches Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator at Pioneer Computer School in Hooksett for a month each school semester. Sandwiched in between are numerous free-lance jobs, she said, creating brochure and magazine covers for businesses.

Irwin said she chose the Dr. Seuss-like rhyming style for her book because it appeals to children.

"Kids have fun with rhymes, they’re so soothing for them," she said. "And they really like the large, colorful illustrations."

Much of Irwin’s message to her youthful readers is told in how she sums up the story in the last sentences of the book:

"Many leaves of one branch, tasty fruits of one tree; we can all live in unity, like the waves of one sea.

"No matter where we come from or the color of our face, we all belong to one family. It’s called ‘The Human Race.’"

Dean Shalhoup’s column appears Saturdays in The Telegraph. He can be reached at 594-6523.


©Copyright 2002, The Telegraph (NH)

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