The artwork Larry Deskiewicz creates by moving the paintbrush affixed to a bicycle helmet on his head relaxes the muscles that his cerebral palsy makes tight and makes him feel good in general.
“It calms down my mind,” he said.
His collected works have been growing over the past two decades, since an occupational therapist figured out a way for him to paint without using his hands, which are too constricted to hold a brush.
This year, his “Arrival” painting of a rural snow scene with a cabin, pine trees, a creek and footbridge, adorned holiday cards mailed throughout the area.
Other subjects – inspired by books and other paintings – include a big boat by grain elevators he named for his girlfriend Gloria Slomba, and three bare trees on a hill that will be a present to his brother.
The cozy little house he painted with snow on the roof, smoke coming out of the chimney and orange light in the window went out in the mail as a holiday greeting and is part of the Aspire agency’s effort to get art made by its clients out into the community.
“Art is just being created left and right,” said Amy Holdnack, coordinator of the iXpress art program, founded about seven years ago.
It filled the classroom where she spoke with Deskiewicz and Slomba. The walls in one of the agency’s centers, in a converted Cheektowaga school on Community Drive, were hung with colorful abstractions that included blue and green circles by Slomba. Two easels held a Deskiewicz view of Niagara Falls lit up at night and a work in progress of a narrow street lined with shops.
“This is my baby,” Holdnack said of the arts program. “To me, it’s not about the end product. To me, it’s the journey that people take.”
Aspire, formerly known as United Cerebral Palsy, has long offered art. Now the renamed nonprofit serves adults with all kinds of developmental disabilities and has broadened its artistic menu to include dance, poetry and ceramics, as well as showings and performances that better connect the artists with an audience beyond the center’s hallways.
Deskiewicz was proud that his painting of the boat, which he titled “Gloria America,” sold for $1,700 at Aspire’s fundraising auction in September.
In the year ahead, the expansive lineup of Aspire showings includes a show of Cindy Sherman-inspired character self-portraits called “Secret Life” that will run from Jan. 28 to Feb. 28 at Merge restaurant in Buffalo. The Quaker Bonnet restaurant on Allen Street will feature abstract paintings in May.
In July, an arts collaboration with Burchfield Penney Art Center, the Buffalo Chamber Players and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra called the Odyssey will unfold and include art, text, photos and music. Aspire artists will interpret the Greek hero’s quest by exploring memories and their life stories.
It used to be that art made by people with disabilities was isolated, said Holdnack.
That’s been changing in recent years.
“Why shouldn’t we share it?” she said.