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Art inspires hope during National Adoption Day at Salem courthouse

Marley Carlson
Families attached leaves to the mural with their adopted children’s names written on them.
Jeph Ellis
Clark School students work on their 45 square foot mural.

In the halls of the Salem Essex Probate and Family Court, there now hangs a brightly colored mural. The painting of a tree — with its whimsical branches sprawling out over a sunrise-lit marsh — is adorned with plastic leaves, each featuring the names of children whose adoptions were finalized there.

The art honors class at the private Clark School in Rowley created the mural that was unveiled at the court’s Nov. 17 celebration of National Adoption Day, its first in the newly renovated building on Federal Street. Speakers included state Senator Joan Lovely, court officials, and Clark School art teacher Jeph Ellis. Alongside the festivities, 10 families finalized their adoption proceedings.

“I remember turning to someone and I said, ‘This is like a big birthday party,’” said Deborah Noyes, the court’s adoption clerk who organized the event.

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Donna and Michael Sandford of Saugus adopted their 15-year-old daughter, Aryana Yolanda, at the event.

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“We were definitely teary-eyed,” Donna Sandford said. “This is a new story for all of us.”

Donna Sandford said it meant a lot that the Clark students took the time to create the mural. Her family, along with many others, took photos in front of the piece to preserve the memory.

“All I heard was, ‘Oh! It’s so beautiful,’” Noyes said of the reactions to the painting.

For Noyes, bringing art into the building is important. The reasons to come to probate court can be bleak: divorces, custody battles, and issues of domestic violence are hashed out within those walls.

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“Most of the time when people are coming to the court, they’re in a crisis,” Noyes said. “I believe [art] really helps people when they’re here, waiting to go in, and they don’t know what their outcome will be. It helps to look at something other than the wall or the floor.”

Noyes thought that adoptions would make great inspiration for an artistic centerpiece. So a few weeks ago, she sent out a call to local artists she knew and connected with Ellis.

“It was kind of kismet,” said Ellis, who was adopted himself.

Ellis drafted his six-student art honors class to pull together a 45-square-foot painting in two weeks. Noyes pitched the initial concept of a “family tree,” but the high school class — made up of Phoenix Hagerman, Isabella Peluso, Annalisa Marzeotti, Elayna Sturm, Molly Balentine, and Nadia Sostek — collaborated to create the final design.

“We were all very excited,” said Peluso, 16, of Middleton. “I think we were all kind of nervous at first, but once we all started to put our ideas together and start to actually make our own picture, that’s when it all came together.”

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The students stayed at school as late as 8 p.m. some nights to meet their deadline, a professional learning experience, said Ellis. The students also learned to work as a team.

“I just love the way this whole painting brings about the idea of hope,” said Hagerman, 17, of Boxford. “It has a welcoming feeling.”

Marley Carlson
Donna and Michael Sandford finalized the adoption of their daughter, Aryana Yolanda, at the event.

Laura Elyse King can be reached at laura.king@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauraelyseking.