A large table is strewn with colored pens and pencils, watercolor sets and stacks of paper. The noise in the room fluctuates. It’s sometimes quiet as everyone works intensely and other times filled with laughter and chatter as people share their day, give encouragement, compare art experiences or ask for feedback on their artwork.
At Services for Independent Living, artists are revving up for the eighth annual Columbia Ramp Art show Aug. 8. In preparation, SIL assistant director, Ramp Art Show coordinator and artist Tarzie Hart teaches eight weeks of art classes to any interested “consumers.” The “Be Ramp Art Ready Workshop,” funded by SIL and VSA Arts of Missouri, helps people with disabilities produce their best work for the Ramp Art show.
Tarzie teaches the basics of drawing and painting over the eight classes. She covers figure drawing using live models, still life painting and landscape drawing and painting.
“My role is to show consumers what I know artistically and encourage them to try new techniques,” Tarzie says. “The main thing is to let them explore and discover what they like to do. I want everyone to try everything.”
She says she enjoys teaching because she likes encouraging others to stretch themselves, but she says teaching Ramp Art classes is different from teaching other art classes.
“I have to be careful to not discourage students. I never tell them they can’t do something or that they’re not doing it right, because many face so much discrimination in life and are easily discouraged. I don’t want to stifle their creative outlet. I have to provide a challenge for advanced students and simple instructions for beginners, while considering their egos and spirits — where they’ve been and how they’ve been treated previously.”
Tarzie says her own disability makes her fatigued, but teaching is worth it. By teaching others new techniques she learns something herself. And she feels she’s been blessed to have talents to share with other people. One experience in particular keeps her teaching. A student told her having his work in the show was one of five things in his life that made him the most proud. He told her would never get over how he felt the night of the show when people considered him a real artist.
“He was so proud and he thanked me. He said he wouldn’t have done it without my encouragement,” Tarzie says.
Many people come to class for the camaraderie as much as for the art instruction. Tarzie says half the students are interested in furthering their art education and the other half are there for art therapy or fellowship.
“What are you doing, Barb?” Greg Griffin asks his wife.
“I’m making sky,” says Barb, a painter who is blind.
“It doesn’t look like sky,” Greg says joking.
“It doesn’t look like sky to me either, but that’s beside the point,” Barb says laughing.
“I hear Seabiscuit is even better than The Horse Whisperer,” Greg says.
“These pictures are looking good, but we want to make them as realistic as possible, so let’s review shading,” Tarzie says.
She has students choose their light source and add appropriate shadows to their pictures.
Greg has finished his picture of a horse but Tarzie suggests he give the horse a shadow. So he continues working on his image, despite his concern that he’ll mess it up. It’s Greg’s third year of entering artwork in Ramp Art and every year he draws a horse. He says he never tires of drawing horses.
“My thing is horses, that’s what I’ve always done,” Greg says. “I fell in love with them when I was young. In Georgia I grew up around horses and they’ve been my life.”
Greg first participated in the Ramp Art show when Barb dragged him to the class. He says Barb taught him self-determination and he now enjoys expressing himself through art.
Tarzie looks at another picture and reviews composition, perspective and vanishing point.
She then announces it’s time to clean up.
“We’re not stopping now!” Cindy Eckstein says. She’s putting finishing touches on her watercolor image of hot air balloons.
Tarzie says supplies will be available a few afternoons so they can finish their artwork.
This year, 70 artists of a wide range of ages and disabilities will display pieces including painting, ceramics, weaving and photography. Ramp Art is a chance for professional and amateur disabled artists to see their work in a gallery and make a cultural contribution to the community. Proceeds from the event help SIL build residential ramps and support VSA Arts of Missouri. Tarzie says proceeds allowed SIL to build 42 ramps so far.
“I think it’s a great experience. There’s just not a downside to it,” Tarzie says. “It shows people’s abilities and not their disabilities. Everyone on earth has talents.”