Riverside Industries: People with Disabilities have show at Nashawannuk Gallery in Easthampton
EASTHAMPTON – Tiffany Chappel of Amherst rubs pastels on paper. The shades of blue melt together to create an effect like the Monet painting beside her. Justin Kim, her art instructor, compares the two pictures.
“Look, it’s almost exact,” Kim observes.
“Yeah, it’s OK,” Chappel answers, modestly.
Nearby, as Beatles music plays, Edie Oyola of Easthampton creates an orange-tan watercolor. Kim and Cailin Gibbons, another instructor, offer to make a mix for her of Beatles music, having seen her drop what she’s creating to dance to a song.
“I don’t want a mix. I want the ‘White Album,’” Oyola says, correcting them.
Whatever the inspiration, unexpected artists are producing works in a program at Riverside Industries in Easthampton.
Ellen Morin of Easthampton looks at the Gallery’s display. Her daughter, Lisa Griffin, has a painting in the exhibit
Riverside, which provides services to people with disabilities, launched a nine-month art project last October funded by the state Department of Mental Retardation.
The program’s mission: allow people with developmental disabilities to create art. Workshops run for two to three months, for around 40 people at a time. Selections from the first cycle of artwork are hanging at Easthampton’s Nashawannuck Gallery, 40 Cottage St., until March 31.
Four local artists, Gibbons, Kim, Cyndy Sperry and Denise Herzog, facilitate the workshops.
The gallery display consists of 24 pieces by 18 artists between the ages of 18 and 60. The artwork includes mixed media with leaves, a collage on rag board, ink on brown wallpaper and a variety of art made with acrylic, oil pastel and watercolor.
One watercolor depicts a long truck with a red head and a blue trailer. Gibbons says the artist, Tony Sadlowski, uses a lot of real-world images in his paintings.
“Tony will point out how the trees are dark against the light sky, and will use that in his painting. He knows that everything in his picture is specific. He’ll tell me where in the picture the diesel fuel goes,” Gibbons says, commenting on another of Sadlowski’s paintings.
Charles Able photo———- Tony Sadlowski of Easthampton poses with his painting of the train yard in West Springfield
Recently, the artists have been working on pieces that will be exhibited at the Northampton Center for the Arts in August. Shelly Houseman of Florence just finished a pastel of dogs in different seasons. As a side project, she made a birthday card for a friend, with pastel and watercolor flowers on the front.
Annette Helgerson of Sunderland paints flowers with water and pastel. She brushes a crimson red onto paper. “I love this color, it’s going to go well in my room,” she says.
Helgerson, who started the art program in January, says painting makes her feel relaxed.
Molly Muellner, the 7-year-old daughter of workshop instructor Sperry, had been creating her own picture at a nearby table. She brings it over to Helgerson. “Here you go.”
“Thank you for the painting. I’ll hang it up in my room,” Helgerson says.
Gibbons says the program allows people with developmental disabilities to communicate in other ways. She says some were concerned that outsiders would discriminate against the work, by thinking of the artwork as no more mature than a child’s.
While a child might pick up a certain color and scribble on a page, art by an adult living with a developmental disability has a sense of organization. She points out a painting by Oyola in the silent auction.
“You can see a whole other layer here. People might stop and see that the artist has much more life experience,” Gibbons says.
Tom and Joan Carhart, of Florence, talk with their son Tommy at the Nashawannuk Gallrery
People in the program differ in their ability to handle brushes or pastels. Gibbons says the artists sometimes choose something else that appeals to them – sometimes a medium that is easier to manipulate, such as acrylic prints.
An artist’s ability often progresses throughout the program. Gibbons describes how one participant was able to dab just a single color of paint on one spot, until it almost wet the paper through. Now he paints over the entire composition, using a variety of colors.
Jonathan Camp of Westfield shows his painting of a sunflower. The sunflower has a big black center ringed with a bit of green and yellow petals. Gibbons says Camp has gone through a change since beginning the program. Before, he had trouble controlling his temper. Now he comes and leaves the world at the door, working from the beginning to the end of the session, and saying thank you to the instructors on the way out.
Back at the Nashawannuck Gallery, a guestbook lies on a table below the artwork. Comments praise the work as wonderful and lovely. One notes that the work is beautiful, inspirational and expressive.
Another claims that it is a revealing celebration of talent “we should all have.”