The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

November 3, 2013

Artists rise above disabilities

EILEEN DUNAVAN
The Commercial-News

Knowing that I have written about famous artists well-known by most people in the world led me to the decision about the type of artists to write about in this article. These are not your typical artists, who don’t struggle daily with a significant physical or mental problem.

All of the artists I will be talking about are disabled in some way. These artists, both male and female, young and old, use their art to communicate with the world. Some of the disabled artists are famous; others are a little less well known. Some of these creative people use their feet to paint, or their mouths. Others are blind or suffer mental disabilities, yet they produce some of the most beautiful art you can imagine.

We will begin with Stephen Wiltshire, whose disability is that he is an autistic savant. He is a world-famous architectural artist. He did not speak until age 9, but at 10, he began to draw detailed sketches of London landmarks. I realize that I have mentioned this man before, but he is simply too amazing to be mentioned only once. After spending only 20 minutes flying over New York City, he created in great detail an 18-foot panoramic landscape of the New York skyline.

Another of these amazing artists is Joseph Cartin. He is from Brooklyn and actively lives with bipolar disorder. He has been active in the “Mental Health Consumer Movement” since 1990 and considers himself a “psychiatric survivor.” He has won many art competitions, and does corporate design work in addition to his personal art.

Peter Longstaff is missing both arms and is a foot painter. Everything he creates is with his feet. His mother had used the drug thalidomide, which was prescribed to her for morning sickness. Many women were prescribed this medicine until it was discovered to cause deformities in fetuses, with many babies being born minus limbs, etc. This artist considers his right foot as important as his right arm.

Neil Mark Smith is another example of perseverance over disability, and produces outstanding art with no lower arms or right foot.

Erich Stegman is disabled as he has lost the use of both arms through polio at age 2. He is a prominent mouth painter, as well as forming the Disabled Artist’s Association around 1953. He was voted president of said association for life. This association continues to be home to hundreds of mouth and foot painters globally.

Amanda La Munyou, who has Asperger’s syndrome, started painting at age 7. She is now 12 and is producing what can only be said to be professional art.

Gilles Trehin has a form of autism and is called autistic savant. The city of Urville exists solely in the mind of this French savant artist. His elaborate sketches of the city are executed in beautifully intricate detail. He has published a book with more than 300 sketches of his fabled city.

I have a reasonably good idea what kind and the amount of imagination it would take to do something like he has done. It seems almost magical that a blind person could paint a picture, or that another person with no arms could paint with his feet, or even his mouth. It makes me ashamed of the things I sometime complain about. They certainly seem mundane compared to these wonderful artists. Perhaps if we could all be a bit more tolerant of each other’s differences, some of the world’s problems could be corrected. There is always hope.

Art League news

Now, for news from the Danville Art League, which is why this is being written in the first place. Yes, we are still a place for artists to gather, be thee young or old.

— Our children’s home school classes and after school art classes will finish the week of Nov. 6, and will resume Jan. 6. I cannot wait, and neither can the children. Our children, or our “shorter artists,” are amazing people. I have a 5-year-old girl in my after school class and her name is Katie. She has the ability to focus, learn very well, and produce art you would expect from someone older than herself. Her brother, Jack, is also a great kid and artist. Reid has progressed in the last three years and is now the master of many forms of art.

— A gallery exhibit featuring the works of Danville native Andrew Dudich will be shown, beginning Nov. 9. This man’s art rocks! You should not miss it.

— From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 9, Art Journaling and Making Books with Jacqueline Worden and Lois Dickenson will be held. (Yes, Jackie is from Danville and has been my friend since we were in high school when we rode dinosaurs to school. Well, maybe not dinosaurs.) Lunch and materials will be included in the cost. The cost is $50.

— Workday for the Christmas Shoppe will be 9 a.m. to noon Nov. 16.

— Our open studio time for artists: 9 a.m. to noon Tuesday through Saturday, as well as 6-9 p.m. All classes and workshops are still $50 for members and $50 for non-members. Please register by calling the Danville Art League at 442-9264. We would love to have you.

— On Dec. 7, there will be a free children’s workshop making Christmas ornaments. Each child must be accompanied by a parent or grandparent. This is so much fun for the children. Please plan on attending.

A simple update on Kem Wiggins: She is a busy girl. Yes, she is still short, but that’s OK because we love her. Being short has not prevented her from doing many murals lately, and doing them quite well. Yes, I have at times carried her in my pocket, but hey, look at the price of gas!

If you love art, breathe art, see art in everything around you, admire the art of others, or simply yearn to create, please call us. The Danville Art League is your kind of place. 442-9264 is our number.

Eileen Dunavan is a member of the Danville Art League. Her column appears once a month.