Exhibit flips assumptions about people with disabilites

by Jordan Green


Ghree Lockard sat on a bench in the middle of the Egbert & Eleanor Davis Gallery at the Sawtooth School for Visual Art taking in the excitement as patrons swarmed over the floor for the opening of Story of My Life, an exhibit showcasing her work along with that of five other disabled adults.

Her ceramic sculpture, a lifelike depiction of a dolphin leaping from a cresting wave aside a goggled swimmer in a front crawl, graced a pedestal in the corner of the gallery.

Lockard had never sculpted before receiving instruction at the Sawtooth School, although she has many other abilities.

Auburn curls falling about her shoulders and dressed in a long gown, Lockard described her artistic process, displaying confidence and care in the enunciation of her words.

“I wanted it to look like it’s real,” she said. “You need a soft clay to make it realistic. There are different kinds of clay. We chose a clay that was more soft. I looked at pictures to get it as close to a dolphin as possible.”

When asked if she had to surmount any challenges to complete the work, Lockard’s answer was firm and definite.

“No,” she said. The visual art of Lockard, along with Greg Silvermail, Cecelia Henry, James Lowdermilk, Karen Lash and John Linville is the centerpiece of the exhibit. Rounding it out are accompanying narratives by Phoebe Zerwick, a lecturer at Wake Forest University who is a former reporter at the Winston-Salem Journal, photographs by Christine Rucker and video by multimedia storyteller and journalist Michelle Johnson. Taken together, the exhibit provides a textured portrait of six people whose lives are filled with creativity, joy, significance and connection to family, colleagues and support staff. Their various disabilities are only a starting point for stories that illustrate the gift of the human condition is unlimited possibility.

A biography written by Zerwick notes that Lockard, who is diagnosed with cerebral palsy, works for Forsyth Industrial Systems, which contracts with local companies. Her favorite job, according to the biography, is packing bottles for Texas Pete’s. Women at the group home where Lockard lives on Stockton Street came to her to mediate disputes, and staff at Group Homes assigned her to take complaints from residents at all seven homes.

The fruits of the artists’ creativity gives a similar testament.

An angel made of wire by Henry is fashioned with exquisite craft.

A two-dimensional piece by Linville uses crushed cans, tabs and polished stones to frame images of endearment. Earrings made by Lash would look at home in any boutique on Trade Street. A slab of computer circuit board provides the setting for an imaginary urban grid with a train of electronic components resembling shipping containers created by Silvermail. And prints by Lowdermilk project warm, organic abstractions.

On the evening of the opening, Lowdermilk recognized himself in promotional a photograph on the wall of the gallery, and clapped. Lowdermilk’s delight prompted a smile from Group Homes staffer Edrena Alexander, who led him through the gallery.

One of the photos in the exhibit showed Lowdermilk seated at a keyboard.

“Keyboard,” he said. “He plays all kinds of musical instruments: keyboard, piano, drums,” Alexander said.

When a reporter asked Lowdermilk how he felt about being featured in the exhibit, he beamed and then patted the questioner on the back.

Betty Lowdermilk, his mother, was there for the big night. “He works so hard at everything,” she said. “He loves to be praised.

She told the story of how her son started playing music by ear as a child from watching a telethon.

“He picked it up off the TV,” Betty Lowdermilk recalled. “They were playing a song called ‘God Is Good.’ I was screaming and hollering: ‘Jim, you’re playing that!’”


Story of My Life, an exhibit and multimedia documentary of six developmentally disabled adults, runs through Nov. 15 at the Eleanor & Egbert Davis Gallery at the Sawtooth School for Visual Art in Winston-Salem.