Our History of Working with Person’s with Disabilities:
I have been passionate about teaching and sharing what I believe to be is the healing aspects of creating art together and for ones self. Becoming a functioning artist saved me; I needed an outlet to express and to share my feelings, teaching gave me purpose and self worth. Simply ArtAble has been the path for me to share these experiences with the greater community.
I am the second to the youngest of 9 children and I have 7 sisters and 1 brother. Everyone likes to compare sisters and I didn’t fit in so well. Being painfully shy and highly sensitive, I was beaten down and teased relentlessly.
Perhaps this is what motivated me at 13 years old to start volunteering at the Dakota County Children’s Home. I don’t think that such places exist anymore, but in the 70’s I would walk through the field to this Nursing Home like building that housed children with disabilities. I would help feed and play with them. When I walked in the door I was greeted with smiles and high-pitched squeals. I just remember feeling so special, like I mattered, like they could really see how special I was too.
My father was the Guidance Director at the Junior High that I attended. He guided the troubled and counseled other people’s children. My mother went back to school and became an Art and Music Therapist. When I was 15 years old she would take me and my little sister to group homes where we held hands with disabled adults, singing, dancing, and playing rhythm instruments.
When I was 16, my 23-year-old sister Cynthia married a man who had a 6-year-old daughter, Rachel, who has cerebral palsy. This opened a whole new world for me! I loved to make Halloween costumes for Rachel that would fit in her wheelchair: a mermaid and a caterpillar with many feet down her front. I planned her birthday parties, creating games and building a paper mache piñata. I will always remember Rachel’s 7th birthday party. My sister was newly wed with an instant daughter. Cynthia’s home was tastefully decorated all in white with a touch of gold trim. The parents came and dropped off their children and left. The kids with spinal bifida, cerebral palsy, wheel chairs, walkers and Brenda, who had no arms. The piñata was hung with children adapting, hitting it their own way. Brenda held the stick between her shoulder and chin whacking away. When the cake and ice cream came, Brenda took off her shoes and held a fork between her toes. Most of the kids had trouble eating and flung food all over as Cynthia and I ran around, not necessarily to help them, but to cover the white rug and upholstery!
In my 20’s my father had his first manic fit. I witnessed this with my mother, and we were terrified! Dad was escorted to the VA psych ward in a police car as we followed behind. He was hospitalized for three months as the doctors adjusted his medications. This was the beginning of my mental health education. I soon learned that many of my friends had mental illness in their families, but never shared their knowledge with me because of the stigma associated with it at the time. Soon mental illness was everywhere!
In the 80’s, my beautiful and talented sister Mary started to spiral down with her own mental health issues. Two of my other sisters flew her home from LA where she had become an addict, bi-polar, and homeless. My niece, Rachel, had by this time, been diagnosed with schizophrenia, spending bouts at the U psych ward as an adolescent. My brother Paul’s live in girlfriend, Nancy, was also diagnosed with schizophrenia and spent the rest of her life in a group home where she died at age 28.
When I look back at my life, the path that I have taken seems pretty straight forward, but honestly, I just blindly took one step after the other, faithfully following the spirit that moved me.
The studio is now in it’s 10th year and serves people of all abilities. We adapt with each and every artist on their own level. I have three part time employees with special needs, including my sister Mary. In 1997, a year before my son George was born, Cynthia gave birth to Christina. We soon learned that Christina has a physical and mental disability. For Christina’s sweet 16th birthday last January, I hosted her party at the studio. All of Christina’s friends with their wheel chairs, walkers, and special needs painted with me in the fully accessible, ADA compliant, Simply ArtAble studio. Paint flew about, but it didn’t matter. This time, I knew what I was doing and beautiful art was made!
I am so very grateful for every single experience that has brought me to this place and am humbled by all of the beauty and love that is created in this space.
It’s about peace & love!
~ Jane Elias, Founder & Creative Director