Friday April 22, 2016

How art school students are helping solve cold cases

Allison Hill-Edgar took part in this year's Forensic Art Workshop at the New York Academy of Art. This skull belongs to a Civil War soldier from the first free African-American military unit in the country. The five pictures, above, show Allison's progress reconstructing the skull over 5 days.

Allison Hill-Edgar took part in this year's Forensic Art Workshop at the New York Academy of Art. This skull belongs to a Civil War soldier from the first free African-American military unit in the country. The five pictures, above, show Allison's progress reconstructing the skull over 5 days. (Allison Hill-Edgar)

Listen 7:37

John Volk started a forensic art workshop for his students at the New York Academy of Art because he thought it would help them hone their skills in sculpture and anatomy. Now those students are helping the City of New York solve cold cases.

"It's a beautiful and really kind of an eerie process" Volk tells Brent Bambury of Day 6.

Each student in the Forensic Art Workshop receives a replica skull from the New York Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Then over the next five days, students use clay to reconstruct the faces of their unknown victims. 

"When the students walk, the very first thing they're told is to check their artistic license at the door."

Volk says paying attention to the skull's shape, its DNA and tissue depth are all key elements in getting the face right.

Last year one student's facial reconstructions was recognised by the victim's aunt, after she saw a picture of it in the New York Times. 

"She was a little flabbergasted," says Volk. "Her nephew had been missing for quite a while."

Because of the growing interest in the Forensic Art Workshop, Volk is considering making it a fifteen week course. 

He says students like exploring the forensics, working as a team on the investigation and definitely want to give back to the community. 

"We always take leadership in our community. We always want to make a difference."

Allison Hill-Edgar took part in this year's Forensic Art Workshop at the New York Academy of Art. 

Hear Allison talk about participating in the workshop and the man whose face she reconstructed. 

She reconstructed the skull of a Civil War soldier from the 54th Regiment of the Union Army, the first free African American unit in the country.