When asked to paint a picture of a dream vacation she would like to take, 68-year-old Hazel Wells began conjuring her image of an airplane en route to Hawaii. With impressive depth and detail, she incorporated her favorite color, blue, and flowers across the bottom.
Wells and other artists who are part of LIFESPAN have become professionals, selling and displaying their work at venues such as the Waynesville Recreation Center and Twigs and Leaves Gallery in downtown Waynesville.
LIFESPAN provides education, employment and enrichment opportunities to children and adults with developmental disabilities. Since 1973, the organization has grown from its roots in Charlotte to 20 locations from Haywood to Alamance counties. LIFESPAN started a creative campus in 2010, introducing clients to art, horticulture, and health and wellness enrichment programs.
Pamela Hjelmeir, the arts assistant of the LIFESPAN Creative Campus in Waynesville, started building the arts program on a local level a year ago. With an art degree from the University of Florida, Hjelmeir had plenty of ideas to inspire the participants.
She has introduced several artistic elements including painting, weaving, drawing and mixed media. Although many participants are non verbal, art allows them to communicate through creativity and illustrate their passions and thoughts.
“Everyone has their own special gifting and their own special talent,” Hjelmeir said. “We all have our weaknesses, but we all have unique contributions to make. You have to look beyond the disability and look at the ability of somebody.”
During the summer of 2010, Hjelmeir worked closely with participants to create art to sell to the community and raise awareness about LIFESPAN’s mission. Their debut appearance was at a booth at the International Festival Day during Folkmoot last July.
Having their work on display is a source of excitement and pride for the participants, who now consider themselves working artists after selling several pieces at various events.
In addition to the gallery showings, LIFESPAN art was used on the Thanksgiving cards for the Haywood County Arts Council. Many participants won blue ribbons for their crafts at the Haywood County Fair and often show their work at state shows in Charlotte and at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
Carrie Keith, an owner of Twigs and Leaves, was so impressed with the artworks’ level of professional appeal she purchased one of her own – a vibrant painting of a tractor. She hung it proudly in the room where her grandson sleeps when he comes over.
“I think it has a lot of fun color,” Keith said. “It’s amazing the talent they possess.”
In March the Waynesville Recreation Center mounted several pieces of their art along the walls facing the new fitness equipment on the second floor. Having LIFESPAN artist’s work at the fitness center has been an effective way to expose the organization to the community and ties into the program’s encouragement of health and wellness.
Each piece of art is priced competitively and fairly in regards to other arts and crafts being sold in the community.
“It’s not as though just because they have a disability we should lower the price,” Hjelmeir said. “It’s very fairly priced, and I have the responsibility to make sure that we protect their interest. They work very hard on these projects.”
In their studio at the LIFESPAN building, Hjelmeir combines group art activities and one-on-one instruction for each of the students involved. While group activities provide a fun atmosphere, one-on-one work allows participants to push their goals and show what they can do individually.
Robert Rogers is also a representational painter with a fascination with farms. His art is full of detailed fences, farm tools, animals and barns, one of which sold at Waynesville’s recent Whole Bloomin Thing Festival. He also admits a love for working with beads and weaving.
Stacey Delancey takes a more abstract approach to her work. She enjoys interactive projects and is drawn to mixed media. During instruction, Hjelmeir sometimes offers suggestions for color mixing and layering and helps them rinse off the paint brush between colors, but otherwise allows the students to create their unique vision.
“We don’t want to box in their creativity and say there is a prescribed formula because there is none,” Hjelmeir said. “It’s individualized just as much as they are.”
Participant Kenneth Grant creates most of his art around political themes and has painted presidential portraits of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln as well as military tanks and war arsenals.
Hjelmeir tries to organize regular field trips for the students to inspire their art. Some of these include swimming at Haywood Regional Health and Fitness Center and the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute.
LIFESPAN relies on grant money and monetary donations from supporters to purchase art and craft supplies. They are always looking for opportunities to show the work of the artists.
In the annual report for 2010, LIFESPAN reported that it had sold 1,125 pieces of participant’s art from all the communities totaling $21,667 over two years.
Hjelmeir is currently working to create digital portfolios of each student’s work and hopes to create an online store to sell each piece.
— By DeeAnna Haney • SMN Intern