Part three showcases the profound effects that opportunities for creativity have allowed a young girl to thrive in. Her experience with painting has amazingly helped to alleviate common symptoms of autism.
A Rainbow Artist is Discovered
Dozens of amazing stories have emerged out of the MOCA and The Cummer Museum Autism art camps, but one of the most riveting is about a young girl who is non-verbal, full of stimulatory behaviors, and could rarely ever sit and attend. Profoundly affected by autism, Gentry Groshell was at the time twelve years old and her mother Amy had witnessed Gentry painting at school one day. Amy noted that when Gentry had a paint brush in her hand and was painting, the constant cacophony of stemming began melting away.
Amy had heard about the program at MOCA and called to see if Gentry would be able to attend the classes if accompanied by an aid. The staff agreed to give it a try and the result was stunning: each session found Gentry attending to the task of painting for longer periods of time, and her art ability progressed rapidly.
Transformation and Freedom
One day while visiting the art camp, I observed Gentry painting. It was the most unbelievable transformation in a child with such severe autism that I’ve ever witnessed. The staff put out paints next to a huge canvas and Gentry grabbed a brush, honed in, and began a masterpiece with vibrant colors sweeping across the canvas. Sometimes she would abandon the brush and use her hands to create the image of her self-expression. The act of painting became a symphony of movements, bouts of giddy laughter, and deep intense focus producing vivid lively paintings in colorful hues. Abruptly, she would smack the brush down and leap out of her chair which signaled she was finished.
After Gentry had completed a painting, she seemed calmer and more at ease. The act of painting physically and mentally freed her of the stimulatory behaviors which had such a firm grip on her. During the painting process, she took full rein of the out-of-control impulses and endless energy, allowing her to hyper-focus on her creation. Gentry’s parents had her paintings professionally matted and embellished with elaborate frames which they displayed throughout their beautiful home. When visiting the Groshell home, I would rave over Gentry’s paintings and could tell that she took great pride in her work by the immediate shift in her behavior. There was a certain twinkle in her eye–an indicator she had cued into my positive compliments regarding her paintings.
Before long, Gentry had produced so many paintings they were stacked up all over the Groshell home. It was then that Amy’s husband Howard found a venue in Jacksonville to have an exhibition of Gentry’s paintings. Hundreds came out to attend and support this first exhibition. Next, dozens of her paintings donned the Duval County Public Library in an exhibition featured throughout the library.
Fast forward: Gentry is now 16 years old. A few weeks ago, local art gallery Gallery 725 featured dozens of Gentry’s paintings. The event was a huge success, raising over $5,000 to benefit the MOCA Rainbow Artist Series.Amy has also created a jewelry line using Gentry’s art with the proceeds going to Autism art programs.
Through art, Gentry discovered and unleashed her creative spirit and self expression. This wonderful story transpired because of the ingenuity of the artist/autism moms and the collaboration between The HEAL Foundation, MOCA and The Cummer Museum. A child’s life was forever changed and through this discovery, Gentry has found her gift in the arts. Gentry’s future has many great paintings yet to fill massive frames to be displayed proudly in homes and galleries.
The HEAL Foundation: HEALing Every Autistic Life, was founded in 2004 by Bobby and Leslie Weed in collaboration with pediatrician Julie Buckley, MD, all parents of daughters with autism. The HEAL Foundation is a local non-profit organization in northeast Florida serving individuals and families living with Autism Spectrum Disorders. The Foundation serves as an outreach organization and has awarded nearly one million dollars in grants to support camps, education, community programs, ESE classroom enhancements, educational seminars, and also hosts several fun recreational and social events for families.