Elizabeth Russell dips a paintbrush into a small dab of white. She gently moves it over to a sheet of paper that she textured with contrasting pink and gray watercolors. After the tip of the brush lightly touches the surface, she drags the bristles in a curve, the white paint leaving the brush behind in a streak on the page, instantly creating the forward part of a dragon’s wing.
“When I do art, I actually think of my mom,” she says in the sweetest of voices. “I started doing things like this with my mom when I was young. I watched her do it for years, and then I did it with her. It helps me remember her.” Elizabeth, a client at Easter Seals West Kentucky, is experiencing one of the many benefits of the center’s art program.
Among its missions, at the core of Easter Seals West Kentucky is support for children and adults with disabilities. For the past eleven years, art has played an important role in not only helping with areas like emotional support—it helps some to communicate in new ways, improves memory and movement in others, and for many, it gives them a new sense of personal creativity and accomplishment. Additionally, the center’s annual HeArt & Soul Art Auction helps raise much-needed funds to continue their mission.
“It gives individuals a way to express themselves in ways they don’t normally get to,” says Anthony Woodruff, Art Director. “A lot of them just like to come in and talk while they make art. They open up. And they can get into an activity they enjoy doing with all the resources they need. I’ve watched some of them progress pretty far with their skills, and often, I am surprised by their ideas.”
Anthony speaks as he walks down one of the halls of the center. The center itself has become a gallery, the walls covered with works of works of art of all varieties. One painting reveals an artist’s affinity for superheroes. Another shows the love of the movie Rear Window by Alfred Hitchcock. In that painting, artist Jerry Beasley interjects himself into the story, replacing Jimmy Stewart’s character with himself. “Sometimes, I just give them the supplies, and they take off,” says Anthony.
Many projects are collaborative. Two such pieces, both of which will be a part of this year’s HeArt & Soul auction, have already garnered a lot of attention around the community. The Paducah and Kentucky paintings feature vignettes of our city and state in large, postcard fashion. “About twelve individuals worked on the Paducah painting,” says Anthony, “and then pretty much every kid in the preschool and Lily Pad programs worked on Kentucky with finalizing at the adult center.” The artists, always looking for new ways to make their pieces unique, often come up with ways to interject their pieces with layers of hidden authenticity. In the Kentucky painting, for example, real goldenrod flowers were crushed and added to the pigment to paint our state flower. “There are hidden things all over,” adds Anthony. “Around the border of the lettering, if you look close, you’ll see the names of all the Kentucky counties.”
The art program is so prolific that area businesses and organizations host an ever-changing gallery of works. “Their works are out on display in the community,” says Anthony, “at places like Lourdes Hospital, The Orthopedic Institute, Remax, Banterra Bank, Mellow Mushroom—all over.”
Back in the art room, Elizabeth’s dragon is coming to life. Across from her is Amber Gengebach. She too is painting a dragon. Both are part of their first collaborative piece. The pair have worked together before, both in developing ideas and in execution. “She sees things different than I do,” says Elizabeth. “We help each other. She may come over and say, ‘How about this or that?’”
“When I paint, I like that finished product,” says Amber. “I like seeing the stages. And I see I have accomplished something.” Amber pauses for a moment. “Hey, Elizabeth,” she says. “How about this? I can go back over the center of this with white and then the outer part of the red.”
“That would look great, Amber!” Elizabeth beams. “You’re the best at this!”
This year’s HeArt & Soul auction will be Friday, June 1 at Walker Hall.