"Honduras, always relatively helpless, has now been reduced—fragmented—into a country of islands…. The whole geography has changed … it is Dante's own news story … a page from some fantastic da Vinci sketchbook, combining the sweep and scale of apocalyptic catastrophe with every engineering complication imaginable."

With an artist's eye, William Swetcharnik describes above the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch in an e-mail account that miraculously escaped the communications tangle only a few days after the havoc. The painter first visited Honduras in 1992 as a cultural exchange lecturer sponsored by the United States Information Agency. In 1995, Swetcharnik received a prestigious Fulbright grant—his second—to research indigenous resources for handmade art materials and to conduct workshops for artisans and artists in a country where a gallon of hardware paint costs as much as a typical campesino earns as a month's wages. The nine-month Fulbright project expanded to two years, then four. The project now affects hundreds of Hondurans, but it is sponsored primarily by the sale of Swetcharnik's still lifes and portraits to Central and North American clients.

Beauty from mud During his initial visit, Swetcharnik was so astounded by the level of poverty he saw that he abandoned his successful artistic career to found LAARP, the Latin American Resource Project. "It began to dawn on me," says the softspoken, bespectacled artist, "that we artists tend to put too much value on the power of art to affect people, and too little value on how our own lives affect those with whom our art puts us in contact." In 1995, William and his wife, Sara, a sculptor, decided to leave their renovated Maryland studio barn, ...

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