Gateway Gallery: Art for independence

by Amy Kingsley

As the sun goes down, the crowd starts to swell at a little brick gallery not far from Old Salem and the greenway. Adults and children both file through a set of double doors and into a narrow shop that leads, in turn, to a small, evenly lit gallery hosting the work of two very different artists: Jeremiah Miller and Jonathan Lindsay.

Miller lives and works in Belews Creek, where he paints almost impressionistic landscape scenes. Lindsay lives in Winston-Salem, and works right out of this very building, in one of a number of artist studios where he makes his sculpture.

Lindsay is an artist at the Enrichment Center – a facility that provides life skills, job training and arts instruction to adults with developmental disabilities. He creates ceramics glazed in vivid primary colors, each one finished with a single word or phrase. Examples include “Danger,” a green with the word written across it in orange, and “Green Apple,” a square plate painted purple.

“We thought these artists would go well together because Jonathan’s work is very precise,” says Sue Kneppelt, director of the Gateway Gallery. “And Jeremiah, his paintings almost dissolve at the edges.”

Miller’s wife, a violinist, commissioned a song for one of her albums from the center’s percussion ensemble, Kneppelt says. That collaboration several years ago led to Miller’s involvement in the show tonight.

In addition to contributing work for the exhibition, Miller led a 10-hour painting workshop for students in the center’s visual art program. Using one of his paintings as a starting point, artists at the center packed the oversize canvas with a cast of quirky rural characters. The piece hangs between the two entrances to the art gallery; pictures clipped into a binder document the work-in-progress.

“I had to try to find and bring out the special skills that each artist had,” Miller says. “And I had to keep the idea focused. With twenty people working on it, someone has to make decisions about where it’s going.”

Miller, who says he’s taught several workshops, said his students at the center were exceptional for the purity of their approach.

“There’s something very immediate about it,” he says. “They’re not illustrating theory, they’re enjoying the materials. And when they paint a figure, it’s not just a person, that person is somebody’s father, mother or brother.”

The Enrichment Center was founded in 1982 by a group of parents whose disabled children were aging out of programs provided through the schools. They did their research and started the Center with five students and three volunteers. These days the facility – their third – provides programs for about 65 students, Kneppelt says.

“The goal is to help adults with disabilities to live as independently as possible,” she says. “All of the arts programming is alternative employment, not therapy. The musicians get paid for their performances and get royalties on their CDs. All of the artists receive fifty percent of the sale price as commission.”

Lindsay also plays in the center’s percussion ensemble, which is tuning up for a performance at the opening. These joint exhibitions have become a semi-monthly event for the center, which is also gearing up for its holiday arts and crafts sale later this month.

Within each department – the center has art, music, dance and photography classes – there is a core group of professional artists who show and sell their work, Kneppelt says. Some of the artists in the program have limited physical abilities, Miller says, that they make up for with other skills.

“Some people who can’t draw as carefully have a very sensual way of using paint,” he says. “It is an interesting way of seeing talents work together.”

During the reception, Miller stops and greets the father of one of the center’s students.

“Your daughter is a great artist,” he says. “She has such a great way of combining colors.”

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