Penn-Mar Human Services

Creating Side by Side: Drawing out the Superhero

Ever since the debut of Superman in 1938, our fascination with superhuman, crime-fighting, heroic characters has not only gone unabated, but has intensified. Today we live in an age of the superhero, one who dominates the big screen with blockbuster action taking out the supervillains and setting the world right, until another baddie comes along.

If there’s anyone who has a finger on the pulse of our fascination with superheroes, it’s Bobby Prado. In fact, Bobby has more than just a finger. With a color pencil or oil pastel in his hand he can render in startling likeness his favorite costumed crusaders. His love of drawing began when he was five, he says, and like our captivation with the crime-fighting comic book and animated characters that he likes to draw, hasn’t stopped.

When Bobby, 22, joined Penn-Mar’s Day Program in Freeland two years ago, it was no surprise that he instantly gravitated to the Adapted Art Studio Program.

“It was evident from the beginning that Bobby has a talent for drawing,” said Rebecca Lee, Art Activities Instructor, who began her career at Penn-Mar five-and-a-half years ago, combining her love of art, she’s an artist herself, and passion for working with people with disabilities. “He’s always been interested in art, and draws constantly, even when he’s not in class. He’s prolific and very creative in his output. He can draw better from memory than most people I know, myself included.”

Recently, Bobby has taken to identifying staff and individuals with comic book characters and action heroes and then drawing them – Rebecca is Rey from Star Wars, and he himself is Tony Stark AKA Iron Man.

Penn-Mar’s Adapted Art Studio Program is targeted as therapeutic for Day Program participants (Rebecca works with between 90 and 115 individuals a week), and encourages them to use their skills creatively on an individual and collaborative basis. Over the years, they have produced an extraordinary body of work that has been exhibited in gallery shows in Pennsylvania and Maryland, including in Bobby’s hometown of Hereford. Two of their pieces are on permanent display in York’s Central Market, and every year for the past four years, participants have created stunning works that are auctioned off at Penn-Mar’s annual Black-Tie Gala. Proceeds from the auctions directly support the art program and help cover the cost of materials and art supplies.

Not only are participants creating art, but they’re learning about art and famous artists as well. In addition to the group work and lessons, Rebecca provides one-on-one instruction for those who have a keen interest in art, like Bobby, or who simply enjoy it. Everyone benefits from the experience, she says.

“As an art teacher you want to keep the students focused on a specific task, but you also want to give them creative license,” she said. A recent example of Bobby’s creative license was turning a spring tree into the superhero Groot, the sentient tree-like creature from Guardians of the Galaxy, and turning a cardinal into an Angry Bird.

Bobby’s had a lot of encouragement along the way, from his family, teachers and staff at Penn-Mar, where’s he’s been able to take his art to the next level and expand his creativity. “Art means everything to me,” he says. “It makes me happy.”

You can bet Bobby will be seeing Wonder Woman when it comes out. Can he draw her? Yes, probably with his eyes closed.