Art Therapy: Just Imagine Gift Gallery

The Just Imagine Gift Gallery offers handcrafted gifts, ceramic home decor, original paintings—and a venue for artists who are developmentally disabled to express themselves.

The Just Imagine Gift Gallery offers handcrafted gifts, ceramic home decor, original paintings—and a venue for artists who are developmentally disabled to express themselves.

The working studio and retail space at 201 Sixth Street NW in Canton replaced the retail store at the Stark County Board of Developmental Disabilities’ Whipple-Dale Centre. The retail store closed in December as part of the county board’s consolidation of its adult sheltered workshops.

im1Therese Heitkamp, the gift gallery’s manager and a Stark DD employee, said Whipple-Dale had a larger space for the artists to work, but the studio was located in the back of the building and not near the gift shop where the customers were.

“We always wanted to have them and their art together,” said Heitkamp. “I could talk until I’m blue, but talking to them is much better than pretty much anything.”

At the downtown Canton space, which is operated by The Workshops Inc., the nine artists create their pieces at tables positioned behind a wooden partition that divides the work area and the shop area.

But the artists typically don’t sit for long when a visitor arrives, Heitkamp said. They are eager to show off their art and interact with the community.

im2Among the artists are Mary Haren, whose paintings have become popular sellers, and Shelby Rastle, who also likes to paint, whether it’s a canvas or something else.

She recently was finishing two blue and two white wooden birds.

“You put anything on there,” she said, pointing to the table. “And I’ll paint it.”

Richard Brezinski, who never had tried art until he worked at the Whipple-Dale Centre, now enjoys making a variety of art, from painting and coloring to clay to wood and even stained glass.

“I’m capable of doing almost anything,” he said, noting he’s never cut himself on the glass. “I’m very, very careful.”

Since the gift gallery’s opening in November, the downtown merchants and the downtown customers have embraced the artists, Heitkamp said. The gallery not only continues to sell enough art to pay its rent and its artists, but the artists also are learning what it means to be part of a community.

im4To help Hartford Middle School’s Give Shade fundraising event May 6, the artists embellished sunglasses with fun colors and patterns. They also painted their own versions of classic book covers, such as “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Sherlock Holmes,” to be displayed and sold at The Next Chapter Bookstore at 310 Fourth Street NW.

The Hub Art Factory donated a portion of its proceeds from its annual Canton Prom to support the Just Imagine artists. Heitkamp said she plans to hire downtown artists to help teach different techniques to the Just Imagine artisans.

Where to buy

The Repository
Select Rite Aid Stores
Spee-D Foods
Buehler's Fresh Foods
Fishers Foods, including 44th Street NW, Tuscarawas St. W, Fulton Drive, Lincoln Way E. and Cleveland Ave. NW locations
Aultman Hospital Gift Shop
Mercy Medical Center Gift Shop
Gervasi Vineyard Marketplace
Carpe Diem Coffee Shop, downtown Canton and Belden Village Mall locations
News Depot
Avenue Arts Marketplace
Yum Yum Tree Alliance
Grapes in a Glass