Trousdale School students inspire and create art on their own terms
As I enter Trousdale School, I am met by a smiling face and asked to sign in. The hallway is unusually quiet for a school full of students, but then again, this is no ordinary school.
The Trousdale School in Cleveland, Tennessee currently houses 24 students ranging in age from 22 to 47. It serves “high-functioning adults with intellectual disabilities” by teaching a range of subjects from math to theater. Along with a standard curriculum, the students participate in life skills classes and vocational training. I am here to observe an art class.
Sarah Bradley, the art instructor, eagerly leads me down the tranquil hallway to her classroom. Six delightful students work excitedly on their art pieces for the upcoming community art show. Each student takes turns introducing his or her self and their art with a level of enthusiasm that makes me feel like a visiting dignitary.
“From My Perspective: An Art Exhibition Featuring Artists with Special Needs” takes place on Thursday, March 17. This is the first year for what is to become an annual event, and the show is open to any and all students with or without disabilities in the Cleveland and Chattanooga areas.
The students continue mixing their paints, discuss finishing touches, and chat with me concerning their other projects as Bradley flows in and around the table answering their questions while providing positive feedback and encouragement. I ask them what they like most about creating art. “I can express myself,” says Amanda McCord who is working on a beautiful collage of flowers. The level of commitment demonstrated by each student is truly remarkable and touching.
“I try in art class to expose them to a lot of different media,” Bradley explains. “Some of them are really good at drawing, but others really just love clay. It’s finding those things that really make them come alive, that they can express themselves and share their vision of the world.”
In preparation for the upcoming art show, the Allied Arts Council of the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce furnished the students with the supplies and activities needed to gain inspiration for their creations. “All students have created textured paintings and self-portraits as part of our ongoing ‘Artists with Disabilities’ unit, in which we are learning about professional artists who have disabilities such as blindness, physical limitations, autism, and Down Syndrome,” Bradley says.
Student Joseph Settle has created an ocean scene with textured waves and asks Bradley for advice on adding a surfer. Clearly engaged and committed, Settle works quietly adding the final touch that will complete his work. Meanwhile, Anthony Crompton carefully traces a photocopy of himself onto a canvas where he will add the necessary paint and texture needed to make it stand out.
Receiving accreditation in 2015, the Trousdale School stands out as the only school in Tennessee to hold this accreditation, and is one of approximately 24 nationally. The school recently celebrated its 10-year anniversary with no signs of slowing down. In fact, the school plans to build a residential area for the students. According to Bradley, there is no average time span for each student. They stay as long as they like and continue gaining skills vital to the workplace and their everyday lives.
Across the table from Crompton, Jessica McFarland tells me about her previous work, a mock stained glass flower painting, as she gets up to retrieve it. Carefully placing the piece on the table, McFarland steps back allowing me to view it. It is beautiful.
Sitting next to the glass flowers is Hannah Elam’s fierce lion painting. Elam speaks openly about her efforts and how much she enjoys art. A stark contrast to Elam’s outspokenness, Jeff Young quietly works on his mountain and lake landscape, but what catches my eye is his self-portrait. Made up of pinks, reds, and yellows and outlined in black, his depiction of himself reminds me of something that would grace an album cover.
“We really are a family. We always sign our cards ‘from the Trousdale School family’ because it really is a family,” Bradley admits. “We are helping [the students] achieve independence, but it’s also a community.”
Bradley and the students encourage everyone to come out and support them in their endeavors and to become a part of the Trousdale School family.
From My Perspective: An Art Exhibition Featuring Artists with Special Needs
Thursday, March 17
3171 Hewitt St. SE