BRICK REDS, deep blues and emerald greens depict rising mountains and a corner of sky, the serene scene reflected in a lake. Texture rises from the canvas, eliciting a sense of flow and movement.
Like many landscape paintings, this one was interpreted from a memory.
“I used to see this red clay mountain in Delaware off of I-95, and I always thought it was just beautiful,” recalls artist Dale Walker.
Now a resident of Savannah, the Long Island native logged plenty of miles riding up and down the East Coast corridor over the years, and the almost-forgotten view served as an unexpected inspiration.
“I started to paint a desert scene, but as I started working, that mountain popped into my mind,” says Walker, who has been blind since 2004. “Then the pine trees and the little lake just came.”
Walker’s vibrant landscape will hang in the Jepson Center as part of I Have Marks to Make, an exhibit of artwork by local citizens with disabilities or are in rehab programs. Part of Telfair Museums’ outreach branch, I Have Marks to Make has been engaging community members of all abilities for 22 years and is one of the Telfair’s longest running programs.
Over ten community organizations partner with the Telfair to bring art therapy to participants, including the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, SCCPSS Dept. for Exceptional Children, Savannah Speech and Hearing Center and LIFE, Inc. Many artists included have special needs or are physically challenged.
“I Have Marks to Make demonstrates that the process of art making can be a meaningful and healing activity to anyone,” says Harry DeLorme, Senior Curator of Education.
This year’s exhibit opens Saturday, Dec. 10 in conjunction with a free family day at the Jepson Center for the Arts. The artists will be in attendance, and the pieces will hang on the second floor of the museum through January 1.
Walker tapped in through the Savannah Center for Blind and Low Vision, where he and others met with artist and facilitator Autumn Gary for several sessions. Living without eyesight is already difficult, though for Walker, the biggest challenge of working with paint was accepting his own capacity to create.
“I tried art when I had my eyes, but I’d just to go the classes to mess with girls,” he chuckles.
“Having someone there who could understand where I was going with things helped a lot. When it came together, it was awesome.”
Gary says Walker isn’t the only one who had trouble believing in their artistic potential.
“There can be a lot of fear about putting the work out there, whether you have different abilities or not,” she reminds.
“Art takes a lot of courage.”
Once debilitated herself by rheumatoid arthritis, Gary appreciates the physical barriers that can prevent someone from expressing themselves through art but believes there is always a way. When it came to choosing colors with the low vision folks, Gary let the artists describe what they wanted, often framing the rainbow in sounds or in “frequencies,” red being low and violet being high.
She brought a variety of tools so that the artists could have the tactile experience of spreading joint compound with a putty knife, sponging cotton balls of paint and using a small roller to fill in lines. She credits another participant, Jessica Thomas, for devising a technique where Gary held artist’s hands while they guided brushes with their thumbs, allowing for maximum creative control.
Thomas, in turn, considers Gary’s gentle insistence that there is no “bad art” as the motivation that kept her focused.
“There is no messing up with her! Autumn sparked so many ideas in me,” says Thomas, a first time I Have Marks to Make contributor who plans to continue making art in other media besides paint.
“I’ve already helped my mom decorate our Christmas tree, and another friend is going to teach me how to make wreaths.”
Another first time participant, Anzley Hutto, says she feels honored to have her work hang in the Jepson and believes engaging the disabled community in the arts can have further-reaching impacts. The Wayne County native is glad to have access to Savannah’s rehabilitative opportunities—including a charming seeing eye dog named Kodi—but worries that those in rural areas don’t have the same options.
“I think this, the art, will open doors for kids in my county who aren’t getting the services they need,” says Hutto, who became blind when she was 14 after a machine malfunction.
Like Walker’s, her exhibition submission is inspired by a memory.
“Five years ago, about a month after I lost my sight, my cousin took me to the beach. I felt the sand while he described a daytime moon,” she remembers.
“When I sat down with Autumn, I decided I wanted to make a piece that captured that day. I can still kind of remember what the moon looks like—a spacey, white gray.”
Gary also worked with dementia patients, veterans and other groups over the last few months for I Have Marks to Make. She says the point of making art transcends ability, and that her job was merely to help facilitate the vision of the artists as best she could while encouraging them not to worry about the final result.
“My whole goal for this was for something to generate from within,” she explains.
“Just doing the art becomes the art.”
Walker agrees that it’s the process, not the product that counts, though he takes understandable pride in his Delaware landscape.
“I never would have done it if the vibe wasn’t right. Now I can’t wait,” says Walker of Saturday’s opening celebration.
“I think it’s going to be real cool.”