Article by Ann Oppenhimer
Looking over past issues of the Folk Art Messenger reminded me of the roster of disabled artists whose work we have featured over many years. This has been a significant part of our mission, and I want to relive, recognize and rejoice in it.
We have presented many artists on the Autism Spectrum and with Asperger’s, for example – Jessica Park, John Williams, Kambel Smith, Sebastian Lopez Duran, and most recently Larry Bissonnette. We have followed their work, and we have seen how they have grown and progressed, helping and encouraging others with Autism. John Williams has been giving workshops, lecturing to school children and exhibiting to great success in Provincetown, Mass. and other places. Larry Bissonnette is a strong advocate of disability rights, working with GRACE (Grass Roots Arts and Community Effort), a non-profit that provides creative outlets for the disabled and elderly.
In this issue of the Messenger, Margaret Day Allen tells the story of Andy Dedominici, who has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. Beth Wiltshire introduces the artist, Charlie Thedieck, who, although diagnosed with schizophrenia and other mental problems, is overcoming these difficulties. A Peer Specialist at Richmond Behavioral Health Authority, Thedieck is helping other clients and also teaching art classes at the center. Art is helping these artists find a better life and a way to help others, including disabled persons, find a better life as well.
For many years, we have been proponents of those art centers that work solely with the developmental and physically disabled, especially those we know and value in the California Bay Area – Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland, Creativity Explored in San Francisco and the NIAD Art Center (now renamed Nurturing Independence Through Artistic Development) in Richmond, Calif. We congratulate and commend the staff and faculty of these centers who work to promote and teach these artists, bringing art and encouragement to their lives. It is one thing to write about these artists, but it is quite another to work with them. We appreciate and admire the devotion that the staffs of these centers bring to their jobs each and every day.
Just recently, four artworks of Creative Growth artist Dan Miller have been acquired by the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Miller is the first Creative Growth artist to join this prestigious collection, and his art is also in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the American Folk Art Museum and the Collection de l’Art Brut. His work has been exhibited at the Venice Biennale, Art Paris, Frieze New York, The Armory Show and the Outsider Art Fairs in Paris and New York. This recognition is a wonderful accomplishment.
Of course, kudos go to the staff of Creative Growth for tirelessly promoting the work of their artists for more than 30 years. Dwight Macintosh, Judith Scott, William Tyler, Aurie Ramirez, John Martin, Kerry Damianakes, Donald Mitchell and many others have long been our favorites and have found great success and recognition, not only in the United States but around the world.
As I said before and I reiterate: helping artists, not just disabled ones, but all outsider, self-taught, visionary and folk artists, is the mission of the Folk Art Society of America. It the reason for the society’s existence, and we appreciate the support and encouragement of our membership in this endeavor. Thanks to all of you.
ANN OPPENHIMER is the Executive Director of the Folk Art Society of America
As seen in the Folk Art Messenger: