Artistic student at school for disabled shows her work

Amanda Long works on a painting at HMS School for Children With Cerebral Palsy. One of her paintings hangs in Tastykake's offices.
Amanda Long works on a painting at HMS School for Children With Cerebral Palsy. One of her paintings hangs in Tastykake's offices.
Posted: July 14, 2013

Amanda Long is immobile without her wheelchair. She lacks the coordination to lift a fork. And she has not spoken a word since she was 3.

Yet Long's powerful artwork hangs on the walls of Tastykake Inc.'s corporate headquarters, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and 15 other buildings on the East Coast.

Long, 21 of Center Valley, Pa., is one of more than 50 students who attend HMS School for Children With Cerebral Palsy in University City.

Like the Irish painter and writer Christy Brown, portrayed in the film My Left Foot, Long and her fellow students have repurposed their bodies to overcome some of the restrictions imposed by their illness.

Brown held his brush in his curled toes. So do some of Long's classmates. Long has the coordination to grab a brush but sometimes opts to dab the colors on directly with her hands. She has even used a brush attached to the end of a baseball-cap bill to make art with a nod of her head.

Their art specialist, Eiko Fan, who holds up the canvases while the young artists create, said she pushes her students to defy the textbook limitations of their bodies.

After all, Fan said, she does not read the textbooks.

"Every part of their life is done for them," said Fan, a calm woman who wore paint-spattered jeans and multicolored polka dot socks for a recent interview. "Doing something themselves is power."

Five pieces of art from HMS have been donated to Fresh Artists, a nonprofit in support of arts education, as gifts for businesses that give money to buy art supplies for underfunded public schools. One of Long's paintings has helped with the purchase of 3,250 pints of tempera paint for students in Philadelphia.

The abstract piece is a chaotic mix of bright primary colors blended in bold, sweeping strokes. Fresh Artists founder and president Barbara Chandler Allen called it "strong, vibrant, and kind of outrageous."

HMS executive director Diane L. Gallagher said that although all of the students' artwork is valuable in its own way, something about Long's connects with people.

"Amanda has a lot of educational challenges and physical challenges," Gallagher said, but with her paintings, the young woman communicates eloquently. "They speak to a lot of people."

Fan said the paintings can show the nuance of students' emotions - not just happy and sad, but also strong and gentle - in a way they might not otherwise be able to share.

"It's a time where bodies are free to get in with the materials and just create," said HMS education director Christina R. Coia, whose office is decorated with six colorful pictures from current and former students. "Our kids need self-expression."

Whether Long understands how much her art is helping is hard to tell, but her teachers and family said her beaming smile shows she knows she's part of something special.

At a recent showcase honoring Fresh Artists donors, Marilyn Long said she had rarely seen her daughter so happy. "She was . . . so proud of her piece of art," she said. "It's given her confidence that she can do something."


 

Contact Summer Ballentine at 215-854-2415 or at SBallentine@philly.com. Follow her on Twitter @esballentine.

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