Unlike the stock art work or motivational posters that hang on the walls of much of corporate America, Mary and Regan Kenyon have amassed an international collection of art, which graces the headquarters of SSAT, a non-profit organization on Route 518 in Skillman that develops and administers the Secondary School Admission Test, of which Regan Kenyon is president.
In the lobby there areseveral pieces from ArtFirst!, an exhibition that showcases the artistic talent of individuals who have disabilities, now in its fifth year at the University Medical Center at Princeton. These include three small abstracts by Tracy Mosman, who is visually impaired, two large portraits by Cam Mandakas, a Mount Laurel artist who has MS, a floral watercolor by Marty Manning, and a hanging sculpture piece by New York artist Paul Bouchard, who is physically disabled.
“The collection at SSAT has about 20 or so pieces that we’ve purchased from ArtFirst! over the years, as well as work we’ve collected during our business travels, mostly from Africa and Asia,” says Mary Kenyon, who with her husband, is serving as honorary co-chair of this year’s exhibit, which opens on Saturday, April 14, with a patrons’ preview party. “Between work and home, I’d say we’ve probably bought close to 30 works of art at ArtFirst!”
Each year hundreds of artists from around the world are invited to submit original art work for ArtFirst! This year’s participants include Tony Hoover of Columbus, Ohio, a self-taught painter with cerebral palsy, who paints from his imagination. His subjects are mostly houses, small communities, and events in his daily life. With limited range of motion, Hoover paints while lying on a thick mat, holding himself up with one arm while painting with the other. He uses intense colors to evoke various emotions, bidding the viewer to come closer in order to share his world.
Hoover has exhibited his work in many solo and group shows, including Ashtabula Arts Center, Dayton Centre Gallery, Columbus Museum of Art, Monroe Community College in Michigan, Northern Kentucky University, and the Ohio State Fair.
Mariana Brooks Mueller (“She Wore a Crown of Twelve Stars,” center right) of Prairie Village, Kansas, experienced a toxic reaction to medication in 1999, which resulted in a traumatic brain injury. Finally able to return to her art full-time, she still suffers from chronic head pain, seizures, and memory disorder. She uses her art to express “the psychology of experiences that cannot be depicted in words.”
Brooks Mueller has been a professional artist for over 30 years — printmaking, photography, sculpture, mosaic, restoration, and writing. She has a master’s degree in printmaking and a doctorate in psychology, and has exhibited her work in t he United States, Mexico, China, France, and other art centers. Her photography was recently selected by the chief curator at the Museum of Biblical Art in New York City for inclusion in a traveling show.
Helene Berman of East Meadow, New York, who lost a leg to cancer, says that painting provides “a sense of calm and peace in times of adversity.”
Berman majored in art at Hunter College and attended the Art Students League in New York. She has exhibited her work in many shows on Long Island, including Chelsea Center, the Chung Chen Gallery, the Nassau County Museum of Art, and a one-woman show at the Commack Jewish Center. She is a member of Nuvisions for Disabled Artists, a group that exhibits in the Philadelphia region.
Other artists include Anthony Zaremba, a watercolorist from Whiting, who had worked with his right hand until 1984, when multiple sclerosis caused the deterioration of his fine motor skills in that hand. Zaremba, a former dental technician, trained himself to become a left-handed painter. Maryland artist Eric Mohn lost the use of his arms and legs after a diving accident, and now paints watercolor landscapes and still lifes by holding his paintbrush in his mouth.
Regan Kenyon sees a distinct similarily between the art collection and his business mission: “ArtFirst! and SSAT provide support and resources for individuals facing challenges or disadvantages.” Kenyon says that ten percent of testing revenue is earmarked by SSAT for use as scholarships for economically disadvantaged students. This allows students with limited financial means to take the test and qualify for scholarships and financial aid that they wouldn’t have been eligible for without SSAT scores.
Kenyon says there are still a few more walls left to fill at SSAT. “Usually I get to the preview at the beginning and I cruise through the whole exhibit to take it all in, because there’s a real demand for a lot of this work—some of it will go immediately. So I go through and start writing down all the pieces we want.”
ArtFirst!, Saturday, April 14, 11 a.m. Auxiliary of University Medical Center at Princeton, Medical Center, 253 Witherspoon Street, Princeton. Preview party to celebrate the opening of an international exhibition and sale of paintings, sculpture, photography, metalwork, textiles, stained glass, and fine jewelry created by artists with disabilities. $60. Open to the public on Sunday, April 15. Through Friday, May 18. 609-497-4211.