To Ukraine with Love: Brookhaven’s Sunflower Exhibit is art from the heart of a war-torn nation

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Maureen Pouder believes in the power of sunflowers.

The Brookhaven Town art teacher looked for a way to show her support for Ukraine and its beleaguered citizens. So she called on her students and other local painters to create original paintings depicting the national factory of this war-torn Eastern European country.

About fifty artists responded with dozens of paintings that express the solidarity and hope of a country in turmoil.

“Everyone is so shaken up by what’s going on in the world,” Pouder, 63, told Newsday. “I just thought it would be nice to divert people’s attention. Sunflowers are beautiful, and I hope we can bring some beauty to this world.”

The paintings – including acrylics, watercolors and oils – will be on display beginning Monday at Brookhaven Town Hall in Farmingville.

The project started about two weeks ago and has quickly produced vibrantly colored paintings in a wide variety of styles. Some pieces show individual flowers; others are sunflowers growing outside farms or placed in vases.

The artists, whose ages range from 40 to 94, said Ukrainians remind them of flowers that bend in the breeze, but do not break.

Volunteers hang one of the paintings made by about 50 artists taking part in an exhibition in the town of Brookhaven to express their solidarity and hope for Ukraine. The exhibition begins March 21 and will be on display indefinitely. Credit: Morgan Campbell

This is why Diane Greenberg’s painting represents a garden of sunflowers, highlighted by a large one in the center which dominates all the others. This one, she says, symbolizes Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“The wind won’t knock it down,” said Greenberg, 75, of Wading River. “It’s a strong stem that shows it’s straight.”

Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner said she hoped the exhibit would be a “showcase for truly advocating for peace” and said the art would be on display indefinitely.

“You can’t escape this,” she said of the war that began on February 24. “It’s completely on our minds, whether it’s because we stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine or we feel the effects through When Maureen reached out, it was really, really a no-brainer to support local artists by showing their sunflowers in favor of Ukraine.

The centerpiece of the exhibit is a 36×40 inch watercolor to which all the artists have contributed. Pouder, who lives in Miller Place, hopes to sell it after the exhibit, with proceeds going to a Ukrainian charity.

Pouder said she used metal she found to be part of a sunflower head in her multimedia work “Sunflowers for Peace.” She said the project helped her and her students respond to a tragedy halfway around the world.

“Everyone, all the seniors, they’re so upset,” she said. “If we can do something good for people, that’s always a plus-plus.”

Claire Siegel, 94, of Patchogue, titled her painting “Innocence”. It depicts a girl holding up flowers near a wall that Siegel says protects her from the horrors of war on the other side.

Siegel, who said members of her family fought in World Wars I and II, said the painting reflected the despair she felt watching another conflict unfold.

“During my life, how many wars have I been through,” she said. “I just feel somewhere, someone should have a moment of innocence to grow up. I hate to see another kid grow up with a war.”

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