Hi Friends! So far my adult life is very full and exciting. I have lot of things that I want to write about in on my blog but they will have to wait until July. Anyway, one very exciting thing I did was to apply for an Art Contest: In/finite Earth asked emerging artist to showcase work that illuminated innovative viewpoints at the intersection of environmentalism, creativity, and disability. It asked the artists `to present their artistic perspectives regarding the natural world, sustainability, and our collective future.’ Fifteen artists will be selected and their work exhibited in Washington D.C. from September to December 2013.
I worked on my pieces at school and my teacher Mr. DeGrandpre and my para-educator, Mark, helped me. At home my mom and my friend Rebecca helped me with the ideas about environmentalism and sustainability and my mom’s friend, Michele helped her with the artistic side of the project. I submitted images of 4 pieces—-you can see them at the end of this post—-and I submitted the following essay. We were so busy with graduation festivities that we had to rush rush rush to put it all together before the June 9 at midnight deadline but we made it. I thought you would like to see my work and read my essay. Let me know if you have any comments or suggestions that I could think about if I ever apply to another art contest.
My name is Mathalia; I was born with a disability named Down Syndrome which has certainly affected me as a person and my creativity BUT it has not stopped me or even slowed me down from engaging in many different forms of art. I will begin the story of my creative journey story with the story of my satisfying and profitable business.
When I was four years old, my mom wanted to give my preschool teachers a Christmas present to express our gratitude to them for their work with young children with and without disabilities. She certainly had in mind that we live in a finite earth with limited resources, when she was digging around in our attic for ideas. She did not want to go out and buy something; she wanted it to be from me; she wanted to use supplies on hand in our `finite’ home. She found the pot holder looms my brother and sister hand long since abandoned AND she found lots of unused loopers! So she sat me down, put my hands on her hands and we began to make pot holders. Little did we know at the time that presents for teachers would lead a friend to offer her store as a retail outlet, that the demand never slowed down, and soon more local shops were added. Now they can be found in seven shops around Missoula and I am frequently a guest vendor at our local summer markets. Often people tell me how much they like my pot holders—I love to meet satisfied customers and I love to make a product that people find useful and beautiful.
My mom and grandma help me behind the scenes with my business but I make the pot holders all by myself on a beautiful handmade maple loom. Sometimes my grandpa has to repair it but I take pride in the fact that I am still using those original looms and that my product is available in small local shops as well as the local art and craft markets. The loopers are 100% cotton and they come from a manufacturing company. In this way I am using material that has already been used to make another useful product: socks.
My tandem bicycle was my first major purchase; I can’t ride a bike on my own in traffic and some distances take too long for us to walk so my mom encouraged me to buy the tandem: we exercise together AND we don’t need to take the car to many favorite destinations around town: library, pool, business deliveries, etc. We also enjoy taking a ride out of the city to enjoy the natural beauty surrounding us in Missoula, Montana.
My public school education gave me many artistic experiences but it was a specific assignment in color values that caught my mom’s attention that this was something very important to me as a person. The teacher had us choose two colors: I chose red and blue; and we had to choose one subject: I chose my violin because I love to play the violin. My mom loved this painting; she framed it; she printed it to send to friends at Christmas. AND she encouraged me to take Introduction to Art as an elective my freshman year in high school. She showed the picture to the art teachers just in case they might have trouble seeing my potential behind the disability or the label, Down Syndrome. My two teachers encouraged me and the artwork which I am submitting for this contest was done under their instruction: my electives always included art: sculpture, painting, watercolor, drawing. My pieces demonstrate my life and interests: landscapes, animals, earthiness.
My Senior Year I took Ag Ed which included plant and animal science. As a freshman someone had suggested that I shouldn’t take it because I am often reluctant to touch new
textures like dirt, plants, or moving, unpredictable animals but when my mom asked me before my Senior year, I said `Yes’! I suppose that my disability affected how I engaged in the whole experience: I was cautious and a little afraid of the animals when I learned about livestock judging; and my mom had to help me use the sharp knife when we were preparing beef jerky from the elk that my classmate had bagged on his hunting trip. But after a little hand-over-hand work—just as I learned to make pot holders—I embraced these experiences. In August I will show my lamb or my goat at the fair. I hope to take my chickens home in order to try my hand at urban farming as I begin to create my adult life. I have learned to walk my animals on a halter and guide them along even when they get jumpy. My mom likes to tell the story of when I got frightened in the chicken coop, knocked the heat lamp into the wood shavings, and almost burned it down . . . that was at the beginning. Now I love going into the chicken coop, holding the chickens, offering my arm as a roosting place, even tolerating a chicken walking around on my head!
My paintings demonstrate my interest in animals and in all sorts of creatures. My bowl says so very many things about my life and my personality: it shows that I could rise above tactile resistance to clay; and cat feet as my subject shows that I could rise above my skittishness with cats and other animals. The assignment was to make a bowl and so I did. Right now it sits prominently on our living room coffee table, mostly it remains empty. My mom likes to keep it empty because it shows openness to the world around us, mostly openness to my future in the face of the uncertainty of my adult life as a person living with a developmental disability.
I graduated from high school on June 1, 2013 and began my life as an adult on June 2. I do not know what the future will bring for me but I plan to continue managing my pot holder business in Missoula and perhaps beyond. I may expand my business to selling new products. For my Senior Project I explored fiber arts: I learned to weave on a four- harness floor loom using another leftover upholstery material; I learned to spin wool fleece into yarn; I learned to make rugs and trivets using Australian locker-hooking techniques. My mom’s `fiber’ friends have given us leftover supplies for me to try working with. I don’t know if I will continue my work with clay, watercolor, acrylic or oil but I do know that I will continue to draw. My art teacher mentioned to my mom that whenever there was free time in class, I always pulled out my sketchbook and colored pencils. I know that when I finish one sketchbook, she will take me shopping for another. And I always make my own cards: I write my message on the inside and draw a picture of something that I have been thinking about: lately chickens, sheep, goats and graduation from high school have been on my mind.
Disclaimer: Mathalia has a developmental disability which means that she is cognitively delayed. Her mom helped her write this essay. The life, the interests, and the work is all Mathalia’s. Her mom sought to find words to express Mathalia’s delight in the world that God made. Her artwork is less a philosophical statement about the earth and its limits than it is a visceral response to what she knows, sees and experiences in that world. Her love of the earth engenders a care for that world and its creatures and her art is her way of helping people see the world as she see it full of delight and wonder.