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Special needs artists speak with paint, clay

Infusion Gallery, in Troutdale, opens with special cause


by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Parris Foley heads up the Infusion Gallery in Troutdale, which is a part of Adult Learning Systems of Oregon. The gallery provides work space and training for developmentally challenged artists. All the artwork shown behind her is by the artists and is on sale at the gallery.

Paintings, drawings and oil pastels line the walls of a Troutdale art gallery where Anton Jarmer meticulously practices an artistic technique called “shading.”

He takes the fine-point brush, used to accentuate precise details, and begins layering the paint under the eye of his latest work, the face of a blond-haired, blue-eyed woman.

A shadow develops, contrast emerges and Jarmer shows off his painting, proud most of the new talent he’s learning to master.

“I started it last week and finished it today,” he said. “I’m getting better and better.”

Next, it’ll be framed and hung beside the works displayed inside Infusion Gallery, which features numerous other developmentally challenged artists along with professional artists from throughout the Pacific Northwest.

The gallery, at 305 E. Columbia River Highway, opened Thursday, Feb. 7, several months after Parris Foley, a volunteer art teacher with Adult Learning Systems of Oregon, brainstormed the idea.

ALSO, a nonprofit organization providing residential and vocational services for people with developmental challenges, worked with Foley to create a place that nurtures the passion of people with special needs. by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Anton Jarmer is an artist who shows his work at the Infusion Gallery in Troutdale.

“This is just something I had in my head, and we made it happen,” Foley said.

In a back room of Infusion Gallery, with inspiration sprouting from windows open to the surrounding snow-topped mountain range, developmentally challenged artists use an array of materials to create memorable works.

They mold sculptures with clay and string necklaces with beads.

It’s also where they learn from Foley and occasionally other artists who volunteer their time.

“It’s not like a class where we’re telling them what to do,” Foley said. “We’re just showing them that they don’t have a disability. ‘You can use a roller. You can paint however you want. It’s OK.’ ”

Under Foley’s guidance, the artists go to work, spending days, even weeks, creating portraits, scenics, abstractions.

Hanging on a wall behind Foley’s desk is one of her favorite pieces in the gallery, painted by a 24-year-old woman with a disability so severe it renders her hands almost unusable.

But Foley placed a thin brush on the back of the woman’s hand and gently secured it with Velcro. Then she put on music and slightly guided the woman’s hand as she stroked the canvas in rhythm with the song.by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Parris Foley of the Infusion Gallery in Troutdale.

“It’s a way for freedom of speech,” Foley said of why the developmentally challenged people she works with enjoy art. “A lot of the people we work with can’t even speak. This gives them an opportunity to express themselves and show what they’re really feeling inside.”

Foley has been destined to help the developmentally challenged.

In high school, she was the teacher’s assistant in a class for students with special needs. In her 20s, Foley worked at Home of Guiding Hands, an organization that provides living arrangements and assistance for people with developmental challenges.

And early last year she joined ALSO and recently was named volunteer of the year.

“I’ve always had a special place for people with disabilities,” she said. “It takes a lot of compassion and a lot of patience. It’s like being a mom. And just the fact that they do it keeps you going.”

As Foley envisioned, the artists earn commission checks for their work, just like professionals.

Jarmer hopes his portrait will find a home. So, when he’s working at the gallery, he speaks with potential buyers, explaining the intricacies of his work and the techniques used to accentuate the face.by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - This watercolor painting is by artist Anton Jarmaer.

Like a professional, he unveils a stack of other drawings, mostly of cars, his favorite subject.

And seeing Jarmer paint, interact and earn a paycheck, like a professional, is everything Foley had imagined.

“It’s breaking down the wall,” she said. “Some people are really intimidated by people with developmental challenges. But once they realize how amazing these guys are and how happy they are — if they can break down that wall, I’ve done my job.”



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