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Wheelchair artist's creativity enhanced

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    Wheelchair artist's creativity enhanced

    Wheelchair artist's creativity enhanced

    Instructor shares new method with high school students

    Tue, Apr 22, 2003

    By Jodee Shaw

    Truth Staff

    GOSHEN -- Brittany Boggs, 16, already an accomplished wheelchair artist, received some additional training Monday that will help her to vary her paintings.

    Click for larger view

    Truth Photo By Fred Flury

    Goshen High School student Brittany Boggs, in wheelchair, is encouraged by Diane Coiro, wheelchair artist instructor, left, as they look over Brittany's partly completed art work Monday. A finished example of Brittany's work, in the foreground, won a regional art competition.x

    The Goshen High School student won Best of Show for her wheelchair art at a recent Indiana University South Bend art show for youth with disabilities. Since then, Boggs has sold two of her paintings.

    On Monday, Diane Coiro, an art instructor for Very Special Arts (VSA) of North Central Indiana, visited Boggs and her classmates in Bev LeCount's functional skills classroom to teach them a new method of wheelchair painting.

    LeCount's students began wheelchair painting after Sandy Weatherwax, Elkhart County Special Education Co-op coordinator, read about the art form in Reader's Digest. In wheelchair art, a large canvas, covered with plastic, is taped to the floor and acrylic paint spread on top. Then a second plastic sheet is added.

    The student then moves her wheelchair's tires over the canvas to create her personal art. "When the top layer of plastic is removed, there is always a gasp of delight from Brittany and all who are watching," Weatherwax said.

    Brittany's classmates cheered her on Monday as she tried the new method provided by VSA in which a paint roller is installed to the front of the wheelchair. Prior to driving her wheelchair over the blank canvas, Brittany chose several patterns, cut from foam, to place on the roller.

    "Back up," "Turn left" and "Stay on the paper" shouted out Brittany's classmates as she maneuvered her electric wheelchair over the canvas.

    The room was filled with smiles and laughter, both from the artist and those watching, as Brittany's brightly colored flowers and leaves began appearing on the canvas.

    "I'm really excited," Brittany said as she watched her painting evolve. "This is fun."

    It was also harder than it first appeared. Brittany had to move her wheelchair forward and back and left and right to cover the entire canvas.

    Coiro said wheelchair art has two purposes--therapeutic and artistic. She explained the maneuvering of the wheelchair requires concentration and dexterity. "As you could see, she has to think about where to move her chair," she said. "She's learning new skills with her chair."

    Wheelchair painting also fosters creativity in those who have never been able to paint before, Coiro added. "It's an incredible thing," she said. "It helps them look at their chair in a different way."

    Coiro said VSA is a nationwide organization that promotes art for people with special needs. The program, offered at no cost to the schools, is funded by grants from local business and community organizations.

    In addition to Goshen High, Coiro has visited Goshen Middle School and Northridge High School in Elkhart County.

    Weatherwax said the wheelchair painting has given her students a new activity to look forward to and a new way to express themselves.

    While Brittany is excited about selling some of her paintings, she said the ability to create something by herself is what makes the wheelchair art so enjoyable.

    Brittany added that she likes being the center of attention. "It feels pretty good," she said. "Plus, I can go home and tell everybody what I did. That's the fun."

    Weatherwax said the painting has been a fabulous experience for Brittany. "It has done so much for her," Weatherwax said, adding that Brittany has limited use of her hands.

    "In this, though, she's in control," Weatherwax continued. "She picks out the colors. They're her ideas. This is her opportunity to shine."

    Weatherwax said she hopes to sell some of Brittany's paintings, which sell for $55 and up, at local coffee houses. The art also may be purchased through LeCount's class at Goshen High.

    Contact Jodee Shaw at