Mark your calendars. It’s a “red-letter day” in the Fox household, for I am quite literally at a loss for words. There are reasons for my sudden lack of (audible) commentary, and I’ve spent the past few days doing more listening than talking, causing most of the Upper Delaware River region to heave a collective sigh of relief and take note.
“What’s wrong?” Joan Glase asked me as I stepped through the door of Gallery 222 in Hurleyville, NY last Friday. “You’re uncharacteristically quiet,” she added. “Are you okay?” Making a mental note that Joan, who serves as the director of public relations for SullivanArc, considers it “uncharacteristic” for me to not be constantly yapping, I nodded silently. The organization, which “supplies support and services to people with developmental and intellectual disabilities,” has been in existence since 1949. Its mission is to “help people live as contributing valued members of the community,” and the gallery, an adjunct space of the new(ish) Arts Centre (www.hurleyvilleartscentre.org), was filled with artists and ardent fans who turned out in droves to celebrate the opening of “Expressions 2018,” an exhibit of “new work created by people with developmental disabilities.”
“You’ve been doing this for a while,” I said to Joan before she introduced me to a few of the artists. How is this year different?” Grinning enthusiastically, she scanned the room. “The nice thing about going to a new space this year is that Gallery 222 is larger than the previous galleries that we’ve shown in, enabling us to show more pieces, including some from artists who have never exhibited before.
“Have you met Lenny?” she asked, pointing to a young man in a wheelchair next to SullivanArc art teacher Vince Sanborn. In fact, I had met Lenny Dalby a few years ago and was so taken with his enthusiasm and charisma that I was deeply moved. While Lenny might be described as “non-verbal,” there is no lack of communication going on, and when I asked him some questions regarding his painting he lit up. Pointing at the artwork with his foot, Lenny grinned while Sanborn explained that many of the students are using new equipment designed specifically for their needs, including a rotating board that enables artists like Dalby to fill the canvas, regardless of any restrictions his “disability” might present.
Not surprisingly, there were several artists in the room anxious to say hello to the Wonder Dog, and we made our way across the gallery, admiring their work and handing out “pawtographs” to Dharma’s new fans. “I love dogs!” exclaimed painter Ivory Jenkins, who was happy to pose for a photograph, once I assured him that he could pet the pup. “Oh look!” he exclaimed. “Jeannie is here!” Turning my head, I couldn’t help but notice a (IMHO) shift in the energy, as all eyes turned to see artist Jeannie Bartolo and her “entourage” make their way into the gallery. Unfamiliar with Bartolo and her work, I asked assistant PR director Ann Finneran about her. “Oh, Jeannie is a SullivanArc superstar” she said. “Go say hello.” Dressed to the nines, Jeannie was clearly in her element, smiling broadly for her fans, and posing (in her wheelchair) for the camera. All the while she expressed her (non-verbal) glee so beautifully that I found myself quietly in awe, deeply moved by her talent, touched by her grace and momentarily silenced while admiring her dignity.
Chatting with some of the staff, I learned that “due to limited movement, Jeannie paints with a custom-designed brush, attached to the end of a fishing pole, which is then attached to her headgear.” As a result of this innovative technique, Jeannie’s neck muscles have strengthened and she is able to paint more freely. “Wow,” I whispered in Jeannie’s ear. “I can’t even draw a stick-figure”—which made her laugh. Alongside other gifted artists like John Moore and Janice Salmeri enjoying the reception, Jeannie positively glowed and had no problem expressing herself clearly without uttering a word.
“I swear,” I said to Joan Glase, while preparing to leave, “I’m going to talk less and listen more from this day forward, for I am truly humbled by this experience.” Chuckling, she reminded me that the exhibit runs through April 15 and all of the artwork is for sale. “Sure you will,” she intoned, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “But this is a first. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you speechless before.”
Situated at 222 Main St. in Hurleyville, the gallery is open Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.. For more information on Sullivan Arc, call 845/796-1350, ext. 1050 or visit www.sullivanarc.org.