Lifestyle

Classic compositions for charity

Islanders Henry Vandersluis and automobile designer Raffi Minasian examine a 1956 Chevrolet (left) and 1970s Triumph TR6 at the weekly Cruise-In at Bainbridge First Baptist Church on Madison Avenue. Every Tuesday from June through August, islanders display their classic cars on the church lawn to benefit Helpline House’s Project Backpack.  - Brad Camp/For the Review
Islanders Henry Vandersluis and automobile designer Raffi Minasian examine a 1956 Chevrolet (left) and 1970s Triumph TR6 at the weekly Cruise-In at Bainbridge First Baptist Church on Madison Avenue. Every Tuesday from June through August, islanders display their classic cars on the church lawn to benefit Helpline House’s Project Backpack.
— image credit: Brad Camp/For the Review

Henry Vandersluis circles the lawn of Bainbridge First Baptist Church, thoughtfully examining the details of each Chevrolet, Oldsmobile and Ford – from the taillights to the emblem.

The 8-year-old Ordway student is no stranger to the Cruise-In, a weekly summer celebration of classic automobiles that benefits Helpline House’s Project Backpack. The youth often photographs the sleek pieces of machinery, then returns home to draw the classics in colored pencil.

But this summer, Henry is joining the effort to support Project Backpack – a fundraiser that eases the financial burden on island families – with his illustrations.

With help from Cruise-In organizer Jim Peek, Henry is coupling his art with the worthy cause, earning commissions from owners to illustrate their cars.

“I give it to them, and they pay me 10 bucks,” Henry said. “Then I put that money in the [donation] box, and then that goes to Project Backpack.”

An upcoming calendar – a collection of Henry’s favorite car illustrations – will go toward the project as well.

For the last 10 years, Project Backpack has provided families with back-to-school supplies and clothing, and has assisted with fees and expenses. The annual program has provided supplies to nearly 1,400 students in the past decade, including nearly 200 students with supplies and funding.

The project also assists with class, transportation and Associated Student Body fees.

According to Helpline House, the required student supplies and fees range from $45 for first graders to $300 for high school seniors.

Henry has already completed his first drawing of the series, an illustration of a blue 1968 Bronco, and has begun work on a depiction of Peek’s 1966 Oldsmobile 442.

“It’s kind of an odd thing – cars and Project Backpack – but it just seems to work,” said Peek, who joined the Cruise-In with Project Backpack years ago. “The people who come aren’t all car people – other than they love cars.”

The young artist

Peek first met Henry a few years ago when the boy began visiting the Cruise-In.

“He came around and told me stuff about my car,” Peek said. “He knows horsepowers, he knows statistics – he knows lots of stuff.”

Henry, who shares a birthday with Henry Ford, can identify a Mustang by the sound of its engine, and names the GTO and Camaro as two of his favorite muscle cars.

“I like driving and art,” Henry said. “I’m middle of the road, I want both – designing and racing, and collecting.”

Henry’s passion for cars has also caught the attention of an automobile designer.

While visiting Oil and Water Art Supply a few months ago, islander Raffi Minasian, who has designed cars for companies such as Subaru and Toyota, took notice of Henry’s illustrations. The prize-winning work, “Machines,” a composition of 16 drawings – was on display.

“He’s basically me when I was his age,” Minasian said.

Minasian became intrigued by Henry’s work.

“He left a business card [at Oil and Water], and they gave it to us, and we contacted him,” Henry said.

Minasian, an experienced illustrator, stresses the importance of observation for a developing artist.

“His skill level at that age was very well-defined and he was paying particular attention to mechanical features that go beyond most kids’ understandings at that age,” Minasian said.

Minasian struck up a friendship with Henry, and has become a mentor to the young artist.

“One of the things I’ve done over the years is just go to schools and show my portfolio and talk with students and just encourage them,” Minasian said. “If they do like to draw and they have ideas and don’t know where to put them, then drawing is a great tool for that. It’s a great form to build self expression.”

Minasian shares not only his knowledge of automobiles, but also his background as an illustrator. They discuss everything from technique, such as shading, to composition.

“He’s a friend/teacher,” Henry said. “It’s fun.”

At Tuesday’s Cruise-In on the expansive grass of the First Baptist Church, Minasian and Henry examined the cars together, peppering the car owners with questions.

“It doesn’t matter what it is that you’re passionate about, it’s having passion that is important,” Minasian said. “The key thing is that you build your own self-confidence and your ability to contribute in some way to the outer world with a skill set that is unique.”

Peek and Minasian have both become important mentors, Henry said. Peek through cars and Minasian through art.

“They’re just great role models,” said Cindy Vandersluis, Henry’s mother. “I’m so appreciative.”

While Henry enjoys the entire process, from photographing and examining the cars to drawing them, delivering the illustrations has a special appeal.

“I’m happy,” he said, “and I can’t wait to see their faces.”

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How to help Project Backpack

Donate school supplies, backpacks or gift cards to help with back-to-school costs. School supplies in highest demand include three-ring binders, college ruled notebooks and paper, colored markers and glue sticks.

Supplies can be dropped off at Helpline House July 26-Aug. 23. Backpacks will be distributed to students Aug. 24-26.

For more information, call 842-7621.

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