Feature, Local News

Larger-than-life smiles on display in Homewood and Flossmoor

You can now drive down Harwood Avenue in Homewood or Flossmoor Road in Flossmoor and see more than 100 smiling faces of residents who are part of the “Smiles Are Contagious” project.

Homewood’s display is on the west wall of Ridgewood Tap at the corner of Ridge Road and Harwood Avenue. Flossmoor’s photo installation is on the village hall at 2800 Flossmoor Road.

People of all ages are now on display for the “Smiles Are Contagious” project. This installation is in downtown Homewood. (Marilyn Thomas/H-F Chronicle)

“Smiles Are Contagious” is the final project of the Fine Arts Department’s MVP class at Homewood-Flossmoor High School. It also is part of the international InsideOut Project that has had similar larger-than-life headshots on display in 138 countries. Students used social media and word-of-mouth to reach out to residents who would agree to be photographed.

Student photographers took the individuals’ pictures and the files were sent to New York, the headquarters for InsideOut, where the 4.5- by 3-foot black and white photos were printed and returned to H-F. The photos will be on display until they come down on their own due to age and weather conditions.

The installation the morning of Wednesday, June 1, got off to a slow start. There was a run to a store for a supply of paste after a shipment from New York didn’t get delivered on time. 

Ellen Holnhoner, left, Philo Zarkenormian, kneeling, and Chris D’Apice of Flossmoor Public Works, smooth out a photo after they placed it onto the Flossmoor Village Hall wall. (Marilyn Thomas/H-F Chronicle)

Once the installation process began, students Maggie Cutrara, Jenna Prado, Ximena Sanchez, Alyssa Freeman and Grace Opyd, working in Homewood, realized their original location wouldn’t work because the wall was stucco – no way to smooth out a photo. Alissa Opyd, events coordinator for Homewood, said businesses were very willing to help, so the H-F crew moved their supplies to a new location on the south side of Ridge Road.

After installing 28 photos, the crew faced another dilemma – they were running out of wall space that they could easily reach. Installation of the remaining 20-plus photos will be Wednesday, June 2, on the north side of the former Suzie’s Hallmark store at 18065 Harwood Avenue.

In Flossmoor, the team found that the brick was very porous, so they experimented with how best to get the photo to hold to the wall. Students Ellen Holndoner, Philo Zarkenormian and Mia Johnson-Chaison got help from Flossmoor Public Works staff Ryan Jones, Mariano Ramos, Blasé Tucker and Chris D’Apice. After much trial and error, they got a system going and were able to install the 55 photos at village hall.

Part of the “Smiles Are Contagious” photo exhibit at Flossmoor Village Hall. (Marilyn Thomas/H-F Chronicle)

The students were having fun with the project, despite the paste on their hands.

“I didn’t come with any expectations. I’m having fun,” said Zarkenormian. Johnson-Chaison wished more of the class members came to help, but she shrugged her shoulders, said it all worked out and she was happy with their efforts.

Teacher J.R. Willard-Rose, who oversaw the project, was glad it finally came to fruition after being put on hold in 2020 due to the pandemic.

“This is really great,” he said as he surveyed the Homewood display. “We weren’t sure how long it would take to get everything printed and back from New York, but it came really quickly and the kids did a great job. The photos look great.

“Just during the installation we’ve had so many cars stop by and ask what’s going on. That’s really the whole point – to get people curious and smiling. I’m really excited and happy,” he said.

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