Artistic touch is shown at WASCO

MARIETTA – Although she cannot form words or use her hands to write, associates and peers at WASCO Inc. have learned to communicate with client Lori Erb.

And over the last two weeks, Erb, 44, of Marietta, has been learning to communicate and participate in an entirely new way – through painting.

“The artwork, it brought her to life,” said WASCO associate Connie Hughes. “It’s let her communicate with her whole body.”

The smile on Hughes’ face as she discusses Erb’s activity is bright, but not nearly as wide as the one worn by Erb herself as she uses a device fashioned with duct tape and attached to a baseball cap to dip a brush in paint and spread it across a canvas by moving her head back and forth.

“We’re just amazed by Lori because her artwork is all done by the force of her head,” Hughes said.

Erb’s flair for art was discovered during an artist-in-residence program that began last week. Through Columbus-based Norwich Consulting Services, Athens artists Patty Mitchell and Robert Lockheed are working with WASCO’s clients, adults with developmental disabilities, using recycled material to create works of art.

“This isn’t crafts. Everybody’s not doing the same thing,” said Mitchell, who has been doing such work for about 20 years.

Mitchell said making art can be “therapeutic” for the clients but didn’t want to label it as therapy.

“Basically what we believe is these guys are perfect, and they just need the right opportunity to bloom,” she said.

Lockheed said they aren’t teaching art but simply providing the materials and letting the clients use them however they see fit.

“People with developmental disabilities, they don’t get a lot of say” in their schedules and other aspects of life, Lockheed said. “So this gives them the opportunity to express themselves freely.

“So if they want to make the pink trunk on a tree, we let them. There is no right or wrong,” he said.

WASCO client Ryan Kuhn, 21, of Marietta, said his first painting looked “like either cheese or SpongeBob.” For his second effort, he decided to go abstract.

“I’ve seen paintings like this before, so I just decided to try and see if I could do it,” said Kuhn, who has long enjoyed painting and finds it calming.

It had been quite a while since Waterford resident Chris Allen, 58, had painted anything, but she was having a blast thinking of what to make and then putting images of the sun, flowers and a favorite dog on canvas or some small pink goats on a piece of wood.

“I love painting,” she said, laughing with delight.

Devola resident Larry Kendall, 62, was also getting into the act, even though he couldn’t see the art he was producing. Hughes guided him as he dipped a tennis ball attached to a Sharpie marker into paint, then pounded it on a wood surface.

“I guess I’m enjoying it,” said Kendall, whose smiles and jokes moments later belied his deadpan response.

Another WASCO client, 27-year-old Eugene Russell of Marietta, said he appreciated Mitchell and Lockheed’s efforts.

“I like good people. I like Robert and Patty,” he said.

Plans are to display the artists’ work in the WASCO building and possibly sell it, either through WASCO’s Heart to Art Galleria in downtown Marietta or another venue, Hughes said. And although the artists’ residency ends Friday, Hughes said the painting won’t stop then.

“We’ve got the stuff to keep going,” she said.

Hughes said members of the public are welcome to come watch the process or volunteer to help out. To do so, they can contact WASCO at (740) 373-3418.