Art Therapy: Echoing Connections

Slashes of red and smears of dark blue paint interrupt the pastel-colored background on the stretched canvas. Neil Poole was having a bad day when he painted it.

Slashes of red and smears of dark blue paint interrupt the pastel-colored background on the stretched canvas. 

Neil Poole was having a bad day when he painted it.

Poole, 23, who is autistic, channeled his negative feelings into the artwork by hitting the canvas with a handful of paint, then running to a corner of the room. He then ran back to the canvas, hit it again and ran in the other direction. A thin white line marks where his fingernail dragged through the paint during one of the swipes.

echo4The painting not only helped Poole release some of his negative feelings that day, but it also helped him express his frustrations to others in a way he can’t always do himself.

“All of us have bad days, but they are not always seen in a way as beautiful as this,” said Kelly Ward, habilitation coordinator at Echoing Connections of Stark County.

Echoing Connections is a day rehabilitation program operated under the nonprofit organization Echoing Hills Village, which is headquartered in Warsaw, Ohio, and serves thousands of people with special needs throughout the world including roughly 150 people in Stark County.

This year, Echoing Hills has partnered with area businesses and elected officials to allow artists from Echoing Connections and artists from its student transitional program called EchoingU to share their works of expression with the community.

echo2Earlier this year, work was on exhibit at Gallery 121. The artists’ work is now on display and can be bought at locations such as Speak Easy Coffee & Conversation in Canal Fulton, the Massillon mayor’s office, Weinberg Financial Group, Massillon Parks & Recreation Center and First Christian Church in Massillon.

Many of the pieces offer cheerful vibrant colors and patterns that don’t come from a paintbrush.

Ward said staff members often provide different tools for the artists to use to express themselves: slices of bread, bubbles, rubber bands, marbles, even a flyswatter all have been used.

“Change is good, and it teaches you that not everything is going to be the same each time,” Ward said. “The easy way, or the ‘normal’ way, is to paint with a paintbrush. Sometimes, you just have to break the norm.”

Jenny Mayberry, of Canal Fulton, used buttons and beads to form the hot-air balloon that carries a house above the white fluffy clouds in her artwork.

“I love art,” she said. “It’s really fun and nice and relaxing.”

Mike Sarli agreed. He leaned forward from his wheelchair to look over some of the art pieces laid out on a table in Echoing Connections’ activity area. He leaned back and circled his hand across his face to say “beautiful,” in sign language.

Ward said she tries to get the new art pieces out to the various locations as soon as the paint dries. The artists also frequently take group visits to see their pieces on the walls.

“There’s no good reason to keep good things behind closed doors,” Ward said.

Echoing Connections serves 74 people at its Canal Fulton location and its newer hub locations at First Christian Church and the Massillon Parks & Recreation Center.