Quarantine art project earns Mississippi 9-year-old a service award

Published 7:20 am Sunday, May 30, 2021

Annabelle Brislin sat on the front porch of her home in South Columbus last Sunday afternoon, with her art supplies strewn around her.

The 9-year-old Columbus native — and most recently the youngest person to ever win a Main Street Service Award, which Main Street Columbus gives to volunteers who serve the downtown community — had several glass jars, Christmas ornaments and oyster shells around her, all painted with vibrant metallic blues, pinks, purples and other bright colors. One hot pink jar had a ribbon tied around the top, a candle placed inside and was inscribed with the words “she can sing a song.” Another, a jar whose green paint swirled into yellow, said “always believe in love.”

Annabelle placed an unpainted glass jar upside down on the table, then held up a small spray bottle.
“There’s alcohol in this,” she explained, beginning to warm to her subject. “What you do is you spray the alcohol all around (the outside of the jar). And then once it’s moist with alcohol, then you get all the ink.

You can buy these at Michael’s and stuff. This one’s blue,” she added, holding up another bottle. “Some of them are metallic.”

She explained how the “alcohol ink,” a special paint that shows up when painted over rubbing alcohol and which produces the vibrant shades covering the ornaments around her, could be sprayed and smeared on the glass jar. It’s a process she’s done hundreds of times with her mother, Amber Brislin, and some of her friends since a year ago, when the COVID-19 pandemic was in full swing and she was looking for something to do from home.

With her mother the former executive director for Main Street Columbus and her father, Quinn Brislin, a local business owner, Annabelle and her family had always been involved in the downtown community. Annabelle had attended every Market Street festival since she was a baby, she set up a lemonade and art stand with some friends during Lemonade Day in 2019 and she and her parents had participated in gardening and clean-up volunteer days downtown.

So after two months of home school and quarantine, while businesses were closed and usual spring and summer activities canceled, Annabelle was searching for a new project.

“I was looking online at all these cool crafts and stuff, and I saw these paintings with alcohol ink on them,” Annabelle said. “… I thought they were really cool, so I showed them to everybody.”

Amber said Annabelle has always loved art — she’s sold some of her paintings at downtown events, and the family’s basement is filled with her easel and paintings. Moreover, Annabelle’s parents themselves were also tired from homeschooling her for the last two months of the year (Annabelle normally attends Annunciation and will go into fourth grade there next year), so they were happy to help their daughter try a new activity.

The family had plenty of time, rubbing alcohol and small glass jars, the last courtesy of current Main Street Executive Director Barbara Bigelow, who gave them to the Brislin family knowing “we never throw anything away,” Amber said.

Annabelle took the jars and began painting.

“The first one turned out — OK,” Annabelle said, making a face. “We got better.”

In fact, Annabelle got so much better that she turned her hobby into a small business, selling the painted jars — and eventually Christmas ornaments and oyster shells as well — at last year’s Art Walk and the Holiday Market. She said she made about $200 selling them for less than $10 apiece.

Others she gave away as gifts or donated to Main Street and local businesses.

It was that last act that earned Annabelle the Main Street Service Award. Annabelle placed candles in the jars and inscribed the outsides of the jars with positive messages and words of encouragement as business owners slowly reopened their downtown stores.

Amber and Quinn said they’ve always felt it’s important to be involved in the community and find ways to give back, even in tough times — like a global pandemic.

“You can complain all you want, but if you don’t try to do your part, then what’s the use?” Quinn said.
Amber agreed.

“It was real easy when we were stuck in the house to just want to play on the computer or watch TV or something, but there’s … a lot more productive things that we could do,” she said.

The evidence of Annabelle’s productivity is all over the Brislin home, with brightly painted glass jars sitting in the windowsills, catching the sunlight.

Though each ornament is unique, with everything from the colors to the inscribed messages fluctuating, Annabelle said she doesn’t have a favorite one.

“They’re all my favorites,” she said.