Art, College, And Philanthropy

A round peg in a square hole – have you ever thought of yourself this way? Most artists and creative people are “different,” to put it politely. But really, we’re all unique, aren’t we? Still, I remember wanting desperately to be a lot more like my peers in elementary school. Eventually, I went to an art college (Kansas City Art Institute), and learned to be nearly as “different” as my classmates. No conformists among us, no sir!

That's Caleb on the right, with his sister and brother, at one of his favorite events: a baseball game.

That’s Caleb on the right, with his sister and brother, at one of his favorite events: a baseball game.

My artist husband, Scott, and I had 5 children, and all of them have unique talents and are blessed with difference, as well. Our youngest son opted to ride a unicycle (as well as 2 of his siblings) for the sheer fact of making sure he was not like his bike-riding friends. But our firstborn, Caleb, has another distinction: he is disabled.

I realize that many, many people have disabilities. It’s a wonder of our age that people are able to live and often flourish in the present day who would once have died or been pushed to the outermost fringes of existence. Caleb is one such young man. During his birth, Caleb was without oxygen for a time, which resulted in epilepsy, cerebral palsy, and partial blindness. Thanks to medications, his seizure activity was kept to a minimum during childhood. He has been off of the medication for several years now.

Caleb helps with church ministries on campus and off.

Caleb helps with church ministries on campus and off.

As a young child, Caleb had some very high quality care. Later, our options thinned out considerably, and I ended up home schooling him. Thanks to that, he is able to read and is proficient on a computer. Because his issue is in his brain, Braille is not a workable option for Caleb, but we did not know this when he was young. His school wanted to teach him Braille, and I continued with it for a year or so. However, if not for me, he may never have learned adequate print reading skills.

The fact is that Caleb simply did not “fit” any of the existing programs as he was being educated. To his sighted friends, he seemed clearly disabled. To his blind and visually impaired peers, and compared to those with various other disabilities we knew, he was the “highest functioning.” That made Caleb feel like he “should” be able to do things he saw others do. But “normal” activities were very taxing and burdensome for him. He later went to a “regular” high school and graduated with average grades.

Caleb sofa

Caleb is now 28 years old. He has been in school every year since before his first birthday. His disabilities prevent him from taking more than 2 or 3 classes at a time. He has been a senior at Colorado State University for the past few years, and may complete his degree next year. He is very happy about the possibility to earn a living in his field, which is natural resources. However, he has run into a problem.

A nice chunk of Caleb’s tuition for the past few years has been paid by a government agency, the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation. He’s had some wonderful case workers, and some not so great. But none of them have stuck around. It seems they never can quite keep up with the workload. Recently, Caleb got a new case worker.

The timing of this change was unfortunate; Caleb was attempting to connect with the new case worker during the time when she needed to assist him in applying for coverage of his spring 2014 tuition. She did not do it in time, and the deadline passed. Now, Caleb is in need of some other kind of assistance in order to continue with school. Caleb may be 28 years old and living on his own, but I am still his mother.

I have set up a fund-raising page for Caleb, and if you click here, you can see it. I am donating a painting (that has gotten a lot of great attention) to the cause. For every donation of $25, one entry will be made for the donor into a draw for the painting, “All About The Ladder.” The drawing will happen if and when the full amount is raised, and we’re now over half way there.

"All About The Ladder" by Mollie Walker Freeman

“All About The Ladder” by Mollie Walker Freeman

I’m not generally supportive of everyone who has a financial crisis going to the internet to try to get their friends to bail them out. This is something worth doing, I believe. Okay, perhaps I’m a bit biased? Either way, if you want to donate to Caleb, we’ll all appreciate it greatly.

 

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“What’s Your Style?”

Have you ever been asked this question? As as artist, I am often asked what my painting style is, or to somehow categorize what I do. Or, many times, someone will do it for me. A surprising number of people have said to me, “Your style is very impressionistic.”

I’m honestly not sure how to describe what I do in terms of style. One thing is sure: it has changed over the years. I loved abstract paintings even as a teenager, but I did not even pursue a painting major at first. I chose a ceramics major. Clay, kilns, all-night parties (with food!) while a raku or gas firing happened – all of this appealed to me. But I kept making flat things and painting on them, and never did well in that department. At the suggestion of a professor, I changed my major to painting.

Mollie Walker Freeman - Self Portrait from the 1980s

Mollie Walker Freeman – Self Portrait from the 1980s

Once in the department, I became familiar with the materials, even as a “style” eluded me. Some students seemed so confident! Their paintings were bold and sure, yet usually unimpressive to me. It seemed as though there were a lot of grey and black paintings in the department. Most of what I saw struck me about the same way my used palette did: a little bit interesting, if accidental. That’s not to say there were no good painters at the Kansas City Art Institute. ┬áJust no one I really wanted to emulate at the time. I couldn’t figure out what I was after, exactly.

Wilbur Niewald, my illustrious painting professor

Wilbur Niewald, my illustrious painting professor

I found it ironic, in view of my inclination toward abstract painting, that I ended up with the professor who was most know for “realistic” painting: Wilbur Niewald. What I came to understand was that abstract painting is a whole lot better when the painter has a visual understanding of whatever is being represented, or visually referenced. Wilbur was not really a “realist,” but more of a “representational” painter. His pictures included figures, still lifes, landscapes and cityscapes, mostly. He, more than any other single person, taught me how to see. Really seeing makes a better painter, whatever the “style.”

Wilbur often painted the Kansas City skyline. This is one of his paintings.

Wilbur often painted the Kansas City skyline. This is one of his paintings.

I finished my painting degree when I had 2 small children at home, and I was pretty fully consumed with raising them and the 3 more children I went on to have. Ten years later, I picked up my brushes again. Guess what? My painting had changed again, even though I had not been painting at all.

"Called" Oil on canvas, by Mollie Walker Freeman

“Called” Oil on canvas, by Mollie Walker Freeman

 

As I have continued to paint, my interests have shifted, and my physical approach my materials has evolved. How else could I end up using re-purposed house paint almost exclusively? I do love oils, but there’s just something about house paint. I love the way it loads up a brush, the way it drips, the different effects of the various finishes.

"Monarchy" a portrait of Dali in re-purposed house paint

“Monarchy” a portrait of Dali in re-purposed house paint, by Mollie Walker Freeman

So what is my style? You tell me. In the art world, we sometimes say or write a whole lot of words that say essentially nothing. I usually will say that my style is “contemporary,” which means very little. Maybe I’m associating my painting style with dance, in which “contemporary” combines some of the best elements from ballet, jazz, and other techniques with elements that are altogether new, often inspired by contemporary music. That works for me.