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Preserve.us: Art Therapy

Preserve.us: Art Therapy

Introducing Rialto Jean Project

Living in Venice Beach, California, Erin Feniger frequented Gjelina for her morning coffee: “I would see this girl—think Erin Wasson—who literally got out of the water from surfing and threw on her paint clothes, because she’s an artist. She’d be wearing her boyfriend’s old Levi’s that had paint everywhere, a white tank top, no bra, and hair with that perfect wave,” she describes. We can all imagine this girl. “I’d be looking at her thinking, ‘I just spent five hours trying to look like that and I don’t,’” Erin says.

Forget the girl, it was those paint covered jeans that stuck with Erin. She hadn’t picked up a paint brush since the third grade, so she went to her friend’s studio and spent five days just observing her artistic process—but mostly how she wiped her brushes on her jeans, using the denim almost like a paint palette. Erin wanted to recreate the look as authentically as possible—the result is that each pair is a work of art in itself.

The day we met Erin at the new location of Rialto Jean Project at the South Street Seaport, she was dressed in her own take on the Canadian tuxedo: ripped up, painted white denim, and a simple blue denim button-up. She’s tan and pretty and has this no-nonsense vibe along with a levity and playfulness that’s intoxicating.

She seems like she’s been doing this forever. But for a decade, Erin was the founder of a fundraising company for non-profits. Then two years ago, she got sick with an autoimmune disease and had to close the doors. Given her vivaciousness, it’s no surprise that after she closed one door, she immediately opened another: Rialto Jean Project.

“My hands are really affected by this disease and when I wasn’t feeling well mentally or physically, I wanted to paint. It was extremely therapeutic,” Erin says.  That got her wheels spinning: “Can you imagine kids who are in hospitals and have no idea how to express themselves? At this point I’m thinking I’m brilliant—I think I’ve created art therapy!” Erin laughs. A quick Google search proved her wrong, but Erin knew she wanted her jeans to benefit children, making sure art therapy programs were fully funded. A happy coincidence: Thanks to her background in fundraising, she knows exactly how to get the money to the right place.

Despite the complete 180 Erin did in the past two years, she’s totally convinced it is one of the best things that has happened in her life. “It taught me to slow down and listen to myself.”

That’s art therapy.

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