Last spring, Nora and I, walked past a table at the Mt. Adams Art Walk and couldn’t help but notice the bright and colorful artwork at the allie art table. Fascinated, Nora looked over every trinket, postcard and necklace. Little did we know, that the story behind the art (and the artist) was as incredible as the art itself. After discovering allie art, I reached out to Allie’s mom to hear more about their story, and the CMB team is so glad we did. Moms like Sharon encourage and inspire us, and it’s no surprise that her daughter would do the same.
Here is the story in the word’s of Allie’s Mom:
“One Christmas, about five years ago, I bought Allie a geometric design coloring book, some markers and colored pencils for her stocking. She always has loved to color, and was delighted to have adult coloring pages to fill. About a year later, she went with my husband Bob to his office and brought the design book and pencils with her to work on while there. She showed her book to Jeff Johns, Bob’s co-worker (who happens to be an artist) and he was pretty impressed with her work and her sense of putting colors together. He made a very inspiring comment to her that she loves to repeat, “Allie, the world needs to see your work!”
About a month later, Jeff called to say that there was a 5’ by 10’ wall space available right next to where he shows his painting at the Pendleton Art Center in downtown Cincinnati, and that Allie should rent it and show her work. At first I was a little hesitant about it, not sure how to even begin and even more afraid that it would not go well. As a parent of a daughter with special needs, I always want to do all I can to set her up for success. There are always a lot of challenges and disappointments, and my goal is to minimize them. I also knew realistically that I was going to be the one to do the framing and the overall management of the venture! But Allie really wanted to do it…
You see, this was a dream of Allie’s from way back. When she was in elementary school, as part of the IEP process for children with special needs, she had to write down each year what her dreams and goals were for her life. This was to help create the best education plan possible to meet that goal. For many years Allie wrote,
I want to be an artist.
Some years she added another occupation, too, like “and a veterinarian”, or “and a fashion designer.” But an artist was a mainstay.
So, I figured we would give it a try for a month or two. Allie paid the $50 rental fee out her savings and I began to figure out how to go about displaying her work. Framing the pictures in fun colorful frames was the obvious place to start. But in the process Allie made a comment that she didn’t want people to just hang her work on a wall, she wanted them to be able to use it and wear it too. I remember holding up one of her colorful design sheets I was getting ready to frame and asking her, “How do you wear this?!” She replied back that people wear jewelry. And she went on to say that they also use bookmarks and note cards, too. Brilliant, I thought. We got in the car and went to the craft stores to see how we could make wearable and usable “allie art.” (That was the obvious and perfect name for this venture.)
I found simple glass lockets and other metal pendants for necklaces and earrings that I could use to put small pieces of her artwork in, as well colorful notecards in which to pop her art. While at the store Allie told me that people like to sparkle, and wondered if we (which really means me!) could make that happen. I found small gems in bright colors and brought them home with us. I used some of the pieces of the design sheets I had left over from framing, cut shapes out to fit the pendants, glued them in, added a gem, and then varnished over the paper to protect it. And then, in addition to framed pieces, we had wearable art! By the way, the gems have now become a permanent part of allie art, added to all framed pieces as well as the other items we now have in the collection, making it more unique – and sparkly.
The first monthly show in August of 2012 at the Pendleton Art Center went great, and so did each one following. So well that we ended up staying there for two years! We met lots of people who were really impressed with and inspired by Allie and her work, and they encouraged her to participate in other shows around the city, like the Mt. Adams Art Walk. People who stopped to see her work also gave suggestions on other items that would be great filled with her colorful art. So the line expanded over time to include more jewelry items like bracelets and rings, and accessory items including hair items, belt buckles, key rings, purse hangers, and ID badge reels. Then it expanded to home accessory items like bottle stoppers, stem glass charms, refrigerator magnets, and Christmas ornaments. Allie and I now decide together what to do with each of her beautiful design sheets. She refers to herself as the artist and to me as her factory!
Not long after the first shows, a friend sent a note to the local paper about Allie, and they called to say they wanted to do a story on her. The reporter came to our home to interview Allie and get her picture for the paper. He asked her why she wanted to show her artwork and what she hoped would happen with it, and she simply said,
I like to get a smile.
That’s what it is all about for Allie. It’s not about the money she makes selling her work. It’s about the joy it brings.
I am amazed at how this has evolved and how much hope and joy Allie’s work has brought to people. The funny thing is that I remember when Allie would write down that she wanted to be an artist, I would tell her that that was a great dream, but she also needed to think about other things she might want to do, too; it was really hard to be an artist. In my mind I was thinking: you need a real job, honey, so we need to find a skill you have and pursue that. After we set up the first show, Allie turned to me and said, “See mom, dreams do come true!” Warmed my heart and also made me cry.
This new art adventure has really made an impact on me and Allie. It has helped to boost Allie’s self-confidence, and improved her social and communication skills. It has also brought to light her God-given purpose in life, to bring hope and joy (aka smiles) to other people with special needs, and to inspire their family, teachers and other mentors to help and support them pursue their dreams.
Allie Guard, now 26, does have a “real job” too. She has worked at Children’s Hospital now for five years in the Call Center preparing patient mailings and also some computer data entry work. She loves working there, and her team loves her back. Her co-workers have all been very encouraging of her “second” job, too, and many come to work wearing her art with a smile!
I love when I get the opportunity to introduce Allie to people and show off her art and help them see the amazing potential that people with Down Syndrome have. I love to see the hope it inspires in moms with young children with special needs. Many customers ask if they can take pictures of Allie and her work to share with family and friends. Some have asked if she would be willing to come and talk to students about her artwork. I also have other moms recognize and admire the work I am doing to help Allie, and I know it inspires them.
In addition to mom, I am Director of Family Ministry at Anderson Hills United Methodist Church. I have been married to Bob, who Allie calls the “pack-mule” because he carries all the stuff we need to the shows, for 28 years. We also have a son, Allie’s younger but much taller brother,Sam, who is 23. I fully enjoy being Allie’s mom and partner; we make a great team. She does what I can’t do with design sheets and colored pencils, and I do what she can’t do with a mat knife and pliers. I, like Allie, do it for smiles, too—but mostly smiles from Allie.
• “Color Me Happy” Show, Westheimer Gallery, Sharonville – September 10 – 26
• “A Fair of the Arts” Show, Beech Acres Park, Anderson – Sept. 19, 11a-4p
• “Art Walk” at Essex Studio, Walnut Hills, October 2-3, 6-10p
• “Mt. Adams Art Walk”, October 10, 1-6p
• “Art Affaire”, Mt. Washington Presbyterian Church, Saturday, Nov. 7, 10a-3p
Where can you buy Allie Art?
• The Colorful Cupboard, Amelia
• Urban Eden, downtown