Creativity Soars Over Barriers

by Richard Senti on Mon, 2012-04-09 09:42

MDA Art Collection celebrates 20th year

In celebration of the MDA Art Collection’s 20th year, we present a portfolio of work by artists with ALS. This issue’s cover art, “Big Wheels Keep on Turnin’,” is a digital painting by Erin Brady Worsham of Nashville, Tenn., who has a number of pieces in the Collection.
Article Highlights:
  • The MDA Art Collection features more than 385 pieces, and the following are samples of work by artists with ALS.
  • Now in its 20th year, the Collection is on permanent display at MDA National Headquarters in Tucson, Ariz., and was created to demonstrate that there are no barriers to creativity and to increase public awareness of the achievements of individuals with disabilities.

Commemorating its 20th year of exhibiting the works of artists with neuromuscular disease, the Muscular Dystrophy Association Art Collection continues to demonstrate that physical disability is no barrier to creativity.

Prominent among the more than 385 original works of art in the Collection are pieces by artists with ALS. In recognizing May as National ALS Awareness Month, we are proud to showcase some of these talented artists here.

Established in 1992 by late MDA President and CEO Robert Ross, the Collection is on permanent display at MDA National Headquarters in Tucson, Ariz., and presents several traveling exhibits across the country each year. The Collection’s artists are both amateur and professional, and come from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

Though some of the artwork presented here were created in traditional media such as oil, watercolor and acrylics, you’ll also see a number rendered in digital media. Artists with ALS have discovered that the computer offers tools, both hardware and software, that allow a person with limited mobility to continue the creative process.

Here then is a sampling of work from the MDA Art Collection by artists with ALS. Many more works from the Collection can be seen on MDA's website.

"Grand Cayman Archway", Michael Bougher

"Grand Cayman Archway"
Digital media — 24 by 28½ inches
Michael Bougher, b. 1964, Benicia, Calif.

Michael Bougher worked as a process control system designer before increasing physical challenges due to ALS forced him to retire in 2002. A man of many interests, he turned his attention to astrophysics, quantum mechanics, American history and classical music.

Bougher also developed a passion for electronic art, using his computer to create photo-realistic digital paintings from scratch.

For this painting, Bougher utilized a head pointer and a switch near his cheek to click the mouse button. (See Equipment Corner: A chat with digital painter Michael Bougher in the June 2007 issue of ALSN.)

"Headturner", Erin Brady Worsham

Digital media — 18½ by 24 inches
Erin Brady Worsham, b. 1958, Nashville, Tenn.

Erin Brady Worsham is a former actress, singer and dancer. She uses a computer with special software that allows her to create artwork via a sensor attached to her forehead.

"Headturner" represents her desire to understand what other people think when they observe her for the first time.

Worsham received the 2004 Spirit of da Vinci Award for her creative use of technology and MDA’s Personal Achievement Award for Tennessee in 1999. (See The Artist Inside in the March 2008 issue of ALSN.)



"Ballerina 2", Thomas Nelson


"Ballerina 2"
Digital media — 16¼ by 18¼ inches
Thomas Nelson, b. 1942, Temecula, Calif.

Tom Nelson retired from teaching psychology at a community college in 2000 and was looking forward to playing and performing music.

Months later, he received a diagnosis of ALS. As he lost his mobility, he began making adaptations to keep his creative juices flowing.

Nelson now uses assistive technology and his computer to draw lines and connect vector points by blinking his eyes.

Nelson’s Computers4Quads (31793 Corte Rosario, Temecula, CA 92592) is a nonprofit organization that provides laptop computers and assistive software to people with disabilities.



"Mountain View", David Emmert

"Mountain View"
Oil — 26½ by 32½ inches
David Emmert, b. 1938, Moline, Ill.

David Emmert received a bachelor’s degree from Western Illinois
University and taught junior high school art for 13 years.

Prior to his retirement, he designed layouts for landscape projects.

Emmert hadn’t painted for several years, but after receiving a diagnosis of ALS, he resumed painting his favorite subjects — landscapes.



"My Dad and I", Dorothy "Dottie" Hunt

"My Dad and I"
Digital media — 14¼ by 12¼ inches
Dorothy "Dottie" Hunt, b. 1941, Vinton, Iowa

Dottie Hunt began creating art in middle school and especially enjoyed painting people. Later, she designed and made wedding dresses, and also made beaded jewelry and stained glass paintings.

But with her arm strength weakening after a diagnosis of ALS in 1998, Hunt discovered another way to continue her art — a computer paint program. This piece took more than 72 hours to complete, utilizing just two fingers on one hand.


"Pride of the Yankees", William M. Toss

"Pride of the Yankees"
Opaque watercolor — 26¾ by 32½ inches
William M. Ross, 1937-2009; Bronxville, N.Y.

Bill Ross was a retired high school teacher and author of two plays and a children’s novel. This artwork was inspired by his interest in baseball and his admiration of Lou Gehrig, who retired from baseball after being diagnosed with ALS.

This is one of three pieces by Ross in the Collection. While the first two were completed using his hands, Ross painted this piece using a device to hold the brush in his mouth.


"Tucson", Harry G. Taylor

Woodcut Block Print — 24 by 29 inches
Harry G. Taylor, 1918-2003; Ogden, Utah

Harry Taylor worked for more than 30 years as an art director at a publishing company in Ogden, Utah.

With a master’s degree from the Art Institute of Chicago, he was accomplished in various media, with a particular love of woodcuts.

During retirement, he received a diagnosis of ALS. Nevertheless, he was able to adopt different techniques to continue creating his art, including the use of special carving tools and drills such as a Japanese motorized chisel.

"Cooking Up a Storm", Monty Topche


"Cooking up a Storm"
Watercolor — 20½ by 26½ inches
Monty Topche, 1924-2005; Lauderhill, Fla.

Monty Topche had been drawing since childhood and began painting in 1990 after retiring from the textile industry. He specialized in painting people.

Although he received his diagnosis of ALS in 1999, he was able to continue using his arms to paint without assistance.

Topche, who has three other pieces in the Collection, was featured at numerous shows in Florida and won a variety of awards.


"Stargazer", Dorothy O'Brian

Watercolor — 20 by 24 inches
Dorothy O’Brien, 1943-2010; Corvallis, Ore.

Dorothy O’Brien received a master’s degree in library science and retired from her 25-year career as a medical librarian.

"Stargazer" is a painting of a pink stargazer lily, considered a symbol of wealth, prosperity and striving to achieve.

O’Brien, who painted off and on for 20 years, was the recipient of the MDA Personal Achievement Award for Oregon in 2008.


"Cape May Boat Yard", George Johnson

"Cape May Boat Yard"
Acrylic — 25 by 31 inches
George Johnson, 1942-2003; Gay, W.V.

George Johnson received many awards for his artwork and sold paintings on the East Coast from Maine to Florida. After receiving his diagnosis of ALS, he devoted himself to creating and teaching art.

To help him continue painting as his disease progressed, he designed and manufactured a device to support his painting materials. Johnson received the MDA Personal Achievement Award for West Virginia in 1999.


"Old Barn", Dan Beacome

"Old Barn"
Oil — 25½ by 21¼ inches
Dan Beacome, 1950-2002; Alma, Mich.

Dan Beacome worked for Ford Motor Company for many years. After receiving a diagnosis of ALS at age 30, he left work and began helping others. He campaigned for barrier-free buildings, advocated for those with disabilities and became an artist.

Beacome created paintings by balancing a paintbrush between his teeth, transforming blank canvases into works of art that varied from landscapes to portraits. In 1993, he received the MDA Personal Achievement Award for Michigan.

Richard Senti
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