Tapping art's power to heal body, soul

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Eric Walderman sauntered into Gallery II at Howard County Center for the Arts and pointed out his favorite creation - a muted, three-dimensional multicolored paper cutout mounted on black cardboard.

"I like artwork that comes right at you," he told his parents and 5-year-old niece. "If it doesn't meet you, why should you meet it?"

Walderman, 34, has several of his pieces hanging in the gallery, including Untitled, a 3-D watercolor he created in his therapeutic art class, Focus on Art. The work of students from Focus on Art and its partner class for disabled teen-agers, Exploring Arts, is featured in No Boundaries, an exhibit at Center for the Arts through Aug. 22.

Walderman, who was struck by a car outside his parents' home when he was 10, suffers from a brain injury that causes tremors, limits control of his motor skills and impairs his speech.

About four years ago, Walderman's parents discovered the therapeutic art program, sponsored by the Howard County Recreation and Parks Therapeutic Section. The program is held three times a year for adults with developmental disabilities.

Walderman's parents enrolled their son in the Saturday morning classes because of his penchant for art. "Eric has a lot of ideas," said Ruth Walderman, his mother. "But he needs someone to help execute them."

Therapeutic art enables disabled students to exercise parts of their brain that would otherwise go unused, said Crystal Bowen, the therapeutic arts teacher. The program also offers disabled teen-agers and adults who are confined physically and mentally an avenue for expression and a place to socialize with peers.

Bowen, 21, has taught the art classes for two years. She said her students have developmental disabilities that range from mental retardation to autism. The classes create a safe and controlled environment for disabled students to be completely creative.

Bowen emphasizes that all art should be appreciated as expressive through her class mantra: "No art is ugly."

Each week, the students work with a new medium, such as acrylic paint, canvas, pencils, crayons, clay and watercolors. Bowen said she likes to vary the activities.

Students have created rice mosaics, painted portraits of fellow students, collaborated on group canvases and designed "fantasy" worlds.

Bowen said she has only one rule in her class: Students must cover the entire medium with detail so that no space is unexplored. The works in the gallery represent not only artwork spanning the six-week course

held each fall, winter and spring, but are also symbolic of the daily struggles the students face.

For each student, the class is an opportunity to break free from the boundaries within which they must live, said Bowen.

The exhibit also brings the issue to the community.

"I think people aren't aware of what it means to have a disability and what the boundaries are, no pun intended," said Amy Poff, deputy director of Howard County Arts Council, which operates Center for the Arts.

"Eric wants to be acknowledged," said Howard Walderman, his father. "It builds his self-esteem when there is an exhibit."

"No Boundaries" is at Howard County Center for the Arts, in Ellicott City, through Aug. 22. Gallery Hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

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