This article originally appeared at Art of Autism. I have rewritten it a little and share it here. By Kimberly Gerry-Tucker
“Is anyone in
The kids at school would wave their hands in front of my face and who could blame them. I didn’t talk much in school. Even today at my worst I can’t answer Jeopardy questions aloud in my own home. Not often but often enough to make my skin really prickle.
I came to learn later I had what’s called selective mutism on top of sensory issues. I also had undiagnosed Aspergers as a kid and these things are lifelong of course. I always had my art.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” the teacher asked in 6th grade.
I thought I wanted to be an art teacher but couldn’t say so aloud.
When it was time for art class in school, I was not staring at the patterns of the radiator anymore; I was fully involved and passionate.
I was one of six kids chosen in grade school to participate in a bicentennial mural outside our school…The other kids looked over my shoulder,
I didn’t want attention, praise or recognition so their attention was surprising.
At the end of the year we had a program for parents. It was the last day of 6th grade and I was decked out in my yellow checked colonial outfit that my Aunt had sewed for me for the colonist themed end to our bicentennial year, with the floppy bonnet proudly on my head.
“And now for a special award for artistic achievement…” called the principal.
I was a proverbial deer in headlights, frozen and surprised when I heard my name called. The principal held up a wooden plaque with a copper plate on the front that had my name inscribed on it. My classmate Patty gave me a little shove, a huge smile on her Pixie face.
“That’s you!” she whispered. Go.”
This artwork found in a basement box is a literal interpretation of the saying: “throwing in the towel.”
I remember hours and hours of tension free focusing. There was a pipe-lined closet in my childhood home with a metal bureau inside stuffed with my rock collection. There was room enough in there for a small lamp, a chair and not much else. I sat in there for hours looking at my rocks or drawing. It was confined and soothing; quiet and had no distractions.
At age 15, I’d survived a lot, even coma at the age of 13 when I accidentally drank too much Vodka, thinking it was a cure for whatever was “wrong” with me. I was wrong. I ended up in the hospital. It was a strange time of life for me, as teen age years can be for anyone.
At high school, when I boarded my bus and took my seat, there was always a boy named Mark holding up a sign for me to see. It read:
ARE YOU DEAF?
OR JUST STUPID?
Day after day I just stared through the signs.
One day Mary Ann the bus driver turned and said “Hold up your own sign… do something! Anything!”
I didn’t. At the time I shrugged and ignored it as just
one more thing.
I processed it fully many years later and it made me angry at that point.
I first decided to paint when I was in my 20s. I already knew I can draw and for years I’d been looking at other people’s paintings and thinking, ‘I can do that…’ So I did. I don’t know what happened to that metal bureau but I sometimes mourn it. I mourn things the way some people mourn people.
ABOVE: three children’s blocks nailed together and on the front I glued cut-up popsicle sticks and other pieces of wood, painted the whole thing, and voila! Camp Oregon. By this time I had a spectrum diagnosis…
My painting surface of choice in my 20s was circular saw blades; of all things. I gessoed the metal surfaces with car primer out of a spray can to create a surface for the paint to ‘grab’ and also to protect from rust. I painted rural scenes on them. Lovely decrepit barns, deer, wooded paths…even Indians. One day my friend saw them hanging in my home.
“How much do you want for them?” she asked. I said they aren’t for sale.
“Bull@#$t!” she replies.
Before long I had orders coming in for
“a jockey on her prize horse,”
or a “New Hampshire Inn” painting to hang in the Inn’s lobby.
I painted turkeys,
and fish for fisherman;
I even did an outhouse painting for a plumber!
I displayed a few dozen saw blades on a few big peg boards at a flea market every weekend and I sold hundreds of them over the course of a few years!
Orders started coming in through word of mouth. The cabin above; “Camp Oregon” is a place I painted a lot. A customer requested that I paint four saw blade scenes of this fetching little place, one in every season. Since the place eventually burned down I was glad I had done a big winter painting on a huge two-man saw that my buyers hung on the beam in their den.
painted this cabin so much that I wanted to create a model of it for my reference (see photos above) but also because I’m attached to it in some way. I still have this 3D reference model of the place. I feel like I’ve been there.
The subject matter in my saw blade paintings attested to my love of ‘finding beauty in the aged and worn.’ Most of these I did not bother to photograph before sale.
I am now painting in my living room instead of drawing in a closet.
As for bureaus, I’m oddly attached to them, although this is not so odd for me! When it comes time to discard one bureau and obtain another one, I can’t quite let the other one go, so I typically
save the drawers
for a few years…
and then gradually part with the drawers as they mold in the basement or when I become brave and throw them into a bulk pick-up pile. Currently six small drawers filled with treasures adorn my shelf, piled one atop the other. They’re quite useful. I don’t see my self discarding these, but if I did I would save the white ceramic knobs. At least for awhile.
This is a close-up of detail painted on the circular lid of a wooden crate. It hangs above my dryer in the basement. I was in my 30s when I found the crate in Vermont.
During this period of my early painting experimentations, I transformed my 17 diaries into a book. DonnaWilliams wrote a brilliant Forward for me and I’m forever humbled by that. Her brilliant voice is always in the background of my brain speak.
Donna, when I was faced with ghostwriting Reborn Through Fire for a client, said to me
“I’m 100 percent sure you can do this.”
Writing, like art, is never intended for anyone other than me but in my attempt to understand my self, a book of my own did take shape. I stayed up till 3 A.M. working on it. Sometimes I cried as I wrote it.
I started grouting mosaics onto everything too at this point. My husband was dying and I was his caregiver. I started to see a pattern: the more stressed I was, the more I NEEDed to create. I dressed in full mime attire and make-up around the house as I cared for him, I would write, mosaic, paint and do chores.
….losing a loved one to a terminal illness (he lived five more years) and my “art as expression” was really peaking. Mimes either annoy you or amuse you, and they don’t have to speak. I identified with that. I’ve probably posted this photo in my blog before:
Me, one of many photos taken of me in mime; by an RIT student, Amy Tuccio, who I modeled for.
After my husband died after a long battle with Lou Gehrigs, I got a job painting a few murals at a day center for disabled adults.
I saw a speech pathologist, joined a social skills group, got accepted into The Autism Pilot Project, (an organization that helped with everything from job coaching to community mentoring) and I dabbled in wood carving under the mentor-ship of an amazing talent I’ll call Z. I believed that working in such a 3D format could only improve my paintings. The wood I liked best was cherry. I nicked my finger with the knife. A lot.
Z, a Hungarian man who was not only an amazing wood-carving talent and storyteller, was a painter too and an artist in every way. He told me,
“Kimberly, our carving work is not mass produced like things you will find in stores. Now you’ve bled a little on the wood. You’ve added your DNA to the piece!”
How I loved the feel of the knife shaving away at the wood in my hands, like a hot knife through butter, sweetly scented curly shavings all over my lap and around my feet. I worked up a sweat. I loved everything about wood! My senses were so alive. (See my continuous homage to trees in my blog ).
There is inspiration to be found in the quirky and in the weathered. I’ve drawers full of smooth sticks, unusual rocks and other things found on the ground. Such beauty to be found in decaying barns; their red coats faded to silver grey. Oh the adversity a barn board has known: the assault of howling winds, ‘twenty below’ winters and baking heat.
If I could (and was of the means), I would repurpose barn boards for use in a country home, creating rustic paneling and having furniture made with it too…
I am not faded to silver grey like the barns, just yet. When I am I will try to see beyond a collapsing heap and see instead a purpose. I know I will never stop creating.
I have a suitcase of broken china and sea glass in the basement…More mosaic creations are in my future. I want to sew more elves (I used to do this) from scrap clothing and felt…And I will probably always be expressing my self through paint. I leave you with this:
This particular early sketch in paint:
I don’t do detailed pencil drawings too much anymore, although it is my love. My knuckles ache if I do! I cannot stand at easels… instead I paint with the canvas balanced on my lap. But eight hours bent over a canvas with breaks for food or necessities, are still as crucial and necessary as ever. With art—– words are not necessary. I have purged much of that which I needed to purge in my book “Under The Banana Moon” which was published in 2012. I destroyed my diaries.
I have some writing coming up around Christmas 2016 and in early 2017, one of which is in Aspergers Digest. I’ve been asked to present in April at Lesley College at the symposium for gifted children.
Sometimes I paint ‘happy’ things. I’m a whirling dervish at heart, after all.
Note: at the time this article appeared in Art of Autism, I couldn’t have guessed so many people in my life would be battling for their lives. Steve, who had posted this comment is one of those people and if you could visualize healing energies sent right over to both Donna Williams and Stevo, that would be so great.
By: Steve Selpal Sep 30 2013
“Kimberly, this is so entrancing, just like your book, Under The Banana Moon. I love the way you reminisce about instances in your life. I wish you success and happiness! Just love it.”
My book is available here:
Thanks for reading. This Art of Autism article repost appeared in the daily FB flashback section and so because I had forgotten it existed I thought I’d revise and share here in my personal blog.