Hereford Library Gives Penn-Mar Artists a Chance to Shine - Penn-Mar

Hereford Library Gives Penn-Mar Artists a Chance to Shine

Posted on December 22, 2023

With Electronic Dance Music (EDM) blasting in Penn-Mar Central’s state-of-the-art makerspace, Joe Ginter’s in the zone and ready to dive into whatever art project he’s working on.

“It gets me in the groove,” said Joe, who joined the Penn-Mar Day Program in 2017 and regards himself as a role model for the people supported at the nonprofit. “I feel like I can get the work done.”

While EDM gets him in the mood, it is the act of making art that calms him and helps him concentrate. As Rebecca “Becca” Lee, Penn-Mar’s Art Director, can attest, making art provides a holistic range of benefits for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It addresses physical, emotional, social, and cognitive aspects of their well-being, and offers a unique avenue for self-expression, empowerment, and personal growth.

For the past 12 years, Becca has been taking both a group and person-centered approach to art making with all her Day Program artists who come into the makerspace. The studio space — created in 2019 when Penn-Mar Central in Freeland, Maryland, underwent a complete renovation —includes a loom, kiln, sewing machines, a 3D printer, and a plethora of art supplies.

“While working individually, I like to have the people we support experiment with many different media and styles,” said Becca. “They gradually begin to show their personal style and we work together to express that as best we can. The peacefulness and joy attained by working one-on-one is mutual. The confidence they gain throughout the process is radiant. This confidence is elevated when they see their artwork hanging in a public space.”

One such prominent public space is the Hereford Branch of the Baltimore County Public Library (BCPL) system, which every August for the past nine years, except for two years during the pandemic, has been displaying works of art by Penn-Mar artists.

The month-long art show was spearheaded by Cynthia Webber, the Hereford branch’s Adult and Community Engagement Coordinator, who in 2014 was looking for opportunities to engage with the community and develop a relationship with adults with disabilities.

What started out as a monthly sensory story time for Penn-Mar individuals, grew into an annual art show and expanded the relationship between the two organizations.

“BCPL is all about inclusion and diversity and story time was an opportunity to reach out to Penn-Mar. It grew from there,” said Cynthia.  “Our mission is to provide opportunities to explore, learn, create, and connect, and I feel like with Penn-Mar and other organizations that support people with disabilities, that really goes a long way for giving people opportunities that tie perfectly into our mission.”

“The Hereford library is an incredible connection for us,” said Penn-Mar Central Day Program Manager Leah Myers, and Becca’s supervisor “Cynthia has been our main contact all these years and oversees everything for us. She’s really amazing.”

Preparations for the August art show get underway months in advance, generally in the spring, with the artists chomping at the bit to get started on their projects. This year’s art show included, for the first time, 12 artists from each of Penn-Mar’s three locations.

“Displaying their artwork gives the individuals a huge sense of pride,” said Leah. “They look forward to it with passion each year and come to Becca at different times with ideas of what they want their projects to be.”

As Becca explained, the artwork they create focuses on many of the elements of art including line, shape, form, space, value, color and texture, and range in size from small to large. The pieces are realistic, but more often abstract, and the artists use different media to create them, like acrylic paints, watercolors, ceramics, colored pencils, oil pastels, yarn, as well as upcycled materials.

“I’ve been painting ever since I was six years old. I love to paint!” said Karen Ahrendt, an avid knitter and one of the artists who also helps with the show installation. “I love seeing my paintings at the library over the years.”

“We are just blown away by the artwork by the Penn-Mar artists, and so are our customers who love seeing these pieces — large beautiful vibrant works,” said Cynthia. “It’s really a joy to see them happy as their work is being installed.”

Cynthia has also worked to expand the library’s relationship with Penn-Mar through Art Access, a program where individuals look at art around the Branch and complete a related art activity. They also have a brand-new sensory garden, unveiled last May that was created with Penn-Mar and other organizations in mind. It has allowed Arts Access to move in a new, creative direction. In January participants will make and embellish bird feeders for their garden. And this past October, the Hereford Branch and a few other BCPL branches began piloting an “activity bin” for teens and adults with IDD. The bin, along with a mesh bag of large Lego blocks, includes multi-sensory games and activities that an individual can sit down with and explore while visiting the Branch. 

“We are so grateful to have this relationship with the Hereford Library,” said Becca. “It’s been beneficial to everyone involved.”

For Joe and the other artists, it’s been a phenomenal experience to see their work hanging in the library. “I like it because when people that see regular art, they don’t really see it from the artist’s side. I can look at a painting and know that you put your heart and soul into whatever you make. We feel proud of it. We don’t have disabilities. We have different abilities.”

Translate »