Randall Donner
Randall Donner, Communications Senior Professional

Sharing What’s Inside Through Art

Her paintings, which feature unicorns, rainbows and an occasional pegasus, invoke feelings of joy and thoughts of fancy in the viewer. But for Zoe, the artist, the act of painting is what moves her. “It lets me do what I want,” she said. “It lets me get out what I think and how I am feeling.”

Zoe is one of 10 artists featured in the show, Freedom of Expression, which recently ended at the Polk County Heritage Gallery in Des Moines. Several of the individuals are served by Mosaic, and the project has given them all greater visibility as artists in the community.

They take—and show—great pride in their art. “I’m the artist,” Nate proclaims as he shows his work.

Each of the artists’ work is unique and each uses different media. Zoe paints; Nate creates stained glass pieces; Sadie folds origami flowers and birds; Vera creates ripped-paper mosaics using colors she mixes; Holly creates masks; Ryan creates colorful, geometric abstract art; Thor (alias) created fabric art; and Danielle created a book with anime illustrations.

To see some of the art and hear the artists, check out this video. 

Brandi Bretthauer, Executive Director of Mosaic in Central Iowa, said the show highlights the incredible things that can happen for people through community partnerships. It all started through a Mosaic employee taking several people to see an art show at a local church. The show featured the work of Jill Wells, and it focused on visual inclusion for blind individuals by encouraging touch and incorporating tactile designs created with the braille version of the Iowa Disabilities Act.

“Jill led us through the exhibit and there was an instant connection,” said Katie Flippen, Public Relations Specialist at Mosaic in Central Iowa. “Jill and I spent time identifying artists served by Mosaic, and they participated in workshops as a group and also spent time on individual projects.” From conception to the show opening was less than nine months, and from the start it was about the process as much as the product.

“Jill is just dynamic,” Bretthauer said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone interact with the people we serve with such respect and value them as people. It is the most beautiful thing. She is very in tune with each person and the value of expressing their individual voice.”

Working with Wells, each artist determined the medium that would work best for them. Some worked in mediums they had done before, and others worked in something totally new. 

“Each artist truly was willing to take some risks within their art because they were working with other artists, because they were in a safe space and because they could see each other working in that space,” Wells said. “I love their work. Each person in this exhibit is a true artist. They are constant creators. They communicate very well through this language, and it’s inspiring.”

Wells said she learned through the experience. She learned new techniques, such as that used to create Vera’s watercolor mosaics. Also, the fabric art, which the artist created as clothing for Thor, the god of thunder, was something she’d never worked with. Wells and the artist partnered with a textile artist to complete the pieces.

“I would have never thought that fashion and art wear was something that I would be brave enough to take the risk to do,” Wells said. “So working with him, I was able to have that ability to step away from that fear and work with another artist in our community as well.”

When the exhibit opened on May 1, it set a record for attendance for such an event at the Heritage Gallery. 

“It was wonderful!” Flippen said. “The individuals we serve had a chance to shine and be seen by the community, who in turn had a chance to see the work and hear the artists share their vision and hopes.”

“It’s pretty cool,” Zoe said. “I’m proud of myself.”

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