Charlie Harrison is an 18-year-old student at Gretchen Everhart School. He has an abiding love for the outdoors and enjoys creating artworks that celebrate the natural environment. “Making art is great,” he said. “I like carving birds and stuff.” He has fond memories of art projects and special events that he has experienced in his time at Everhart. One example that stands out in his mind centers on a sculpture created by local artist John Birch in 2006. Using chainsaws and other woodworking tools, Birch transformed a tree stump into a unique piece of art for the school’s campus. It features an owl, the school mascot, “and a little chair too and books,” Charlie added.
Charlie’s tendency to gravitate toward woodworking projects served him well during a recent endeavor spearheaded by Everhart’s art teacher, Judy Jecko. In an effort to raise funds for the art classroom, Jecko put Everhart students to work creating artful holiday decor. Charlie contributed by refinishing two vintage accent tables. “I did a green one and a white one,” he said.
The furnishings, wall hangings and decorative items were sold at the annual French Country Flea Market hosted by Sweet South Cottage.
With 150 vendors, the event drew a crowd, which allowed Jecko to share the artwork of her students with thousands of shoppers. Unlike any other school in the district, Gretchen Everhart specifically serves students with intellectual disabilities. Jecko sees participation in community events as an opportunity for her students to connect with the world beyond the school. “When our students graduate, we want them to have places that they know they can go and activities that they’ve tried and they like so they can continue to have meaningful arts experiences,” Jecko said. “This is a great chance to showcase some of the things our students can do and, at the same time, have our students benefit from selling something that they make. This is a real skill that they could possibly do in the future. It’s something that they can take with them for the rest of their lives.”
Everything offered for sale was created by the students with the exception of a few vintage items added into the mix for variety. Jecko was especially pleased with the way the wooden boards turned out. “The students picked their saying, their colors, they sanded the boards, they did all of it. They knew I wasn’t going to tell them what the boards would say; I wasn’t going to impose that on them. Our first sale, three boards.”
Jecko has some ideas for how to use the proceeds from the event.
“My big wish is to build an open cubby area, where the students can help themselves to smocks, T-shirts, hand sanitizer. It would allow them to be more independent, and if I’m not doing that, I’m able to do something else so it’s a winwin.” Jecko strives to make the art room a place where student feel autonomous and creative. Many Everhart students face challenges with communication, and the act of making offers a healthy and safe outlet for students to express their feelings.
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