Disabled artists speak through their creations


Kim Wallace cannot speak. The hand gestures he uses often cannot be understood. But when the Pasadena man picks up a pencil and piece of paper, he can draw portraits that are clear and precise.

Mr. Wallace's drawings will be among 300 pieces of art on display at the Maryland Institute, College of Art in a exhibit of works by adults who are mentally or emotionally disabled. The exhibit opens today and continues until Oct. 4 in the Thesis Gallery in the Fox Building on Mount Royal Avenue.

The 55 artists whose works are on display are students at the Providence Art Institute in Annapolis. The institute is a subsidiary of Providence Center Inc., a private, nonprofit organization that cares for disabled adults in Anne Arundel County.

Many of the artists will attend a public reception Friday evening, although most will be unable to discuss their works, explain their motivations or reiterate their messages.

The drawings, sculptures and paintings will speak for themselves. Besides Mr. Wallace's pictures, there will be the paintings by Arnold Takamori, an Arnold man whose themes frequently include flags and wheelchairs; abstract designs by Lisa Grandu, an Annapolis woman whose works often reveal her Native American heritage; and still lifes of Carol Schlossbach of Arnold.

"I love to color and I love to paint," said Ms. Schlossbach, who spent yesterday's class drawing and coloring seashells and acorns onto a piece of stark, white paper.

The other students in the class worked intently, rarely pausing to look up from their creations. Ms. Landu concentrated on painting a papier mache cat. Dorothy Jones carefully drew a picture of feathers. Mr. Wallace colored a portrait he had drawn of the class instructor, Michael Patton.

Many of the artists live in group homes and spend their days in supervised classes or work programs. In the art class, they are free to choose their medium and their message, said Mr. Patton, who oversees the art institute.

"It's one of the few areas where they are in control," he said.

Their abilities vary widely. Some are profoundly retarded. Others are autistic. Some have physical disabilities in addition to mental disabilities.

Their interest in art also varies, Mr. Patton said. Some are enrolled in the classes simply because they enjoy drawing, painting and sculpting. Others aspire to be artists, and a few have sold pieces of their work.

"Everybody has something to express," Mr. Patton said.

The pieces on exhibit should not be viewed as the works of disabled adults, but appreciated the same as other works of art, he said. "Everyone has their own style, their own way of composing."

He said the students show a courage that surpasses that of BTC many adults because they have no fear of attempting art. "I've never heard any one them say, 'I can't do it,' " Mr. Patton said. "Their hands do the thinking."

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