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Artistic Creativity is Flourishing at Monarch’s Bladen Opportunities Unlimited Day Program

Bladen CollageMontrel Ward and William Mattoon’s creativity is taking shape as their imaginative wood work designs​ also develop into their individual, unique styles.

Bladen Opportunities Unlimited day program participants Ward, 28, and Mattoon, 44, are exercising their freedom of expression through colorful signs emblazoned with sports themes and inspirational sayings. Bladen’s day program, located in Elizabethtown, serves those with intellectual and developmental disabilities through a variety of programs including one focused on art.

Ward’s signs are typically sports themed, designed with the corresponding team colors. “I just let my creative stuff flow in my head,” he says of how he receives inspiration. “I just let my ideas create everything. I start off by coloring coffee filters and go get some letters.”

Before the letters are placed on the canvas, Ward covers the designed pieces of coffee filter with decoupage, a common art supply used to glue, seal and finish paper. The painted letters are adhered to the canvas. “I sold two signs - one with the​​ University of North Carolina Tar Heels and the other with Michigan State University,” Ward says proudly.

With some assistance in constructing the sign portion from Bladen staff, Ward’s designs are becoming popular. Some have even asked Ward to create signs with specific themes. “They just see the signs and ask me if I can make one for them. I have made nine signs so far,” he explains.

“I really enjoy doing it. My favorite part about making the signs is just creating the sign,” Ward says of his newfound decorative sign-making skill.

Mattoon’s signs are a bit different, but decorative and creative in a unique way. His Developmental Specialist Kendra Sarvis says Mattoon enjoys using his markers, explaining that his designs have a particular zigzag pattern.

Bladen’s Community Engagement Team Leader Damon Heath explains that the staff makes every effort to combine participants’ individual interests with the art project they are working on. “It was kind of like combining William’s interest with his focus. We asked, ‘​What can we do to bridge his interest with art?’” Heath explains.

Mattoon’s patterned colorings are adhered to a background, usually cut out wood, and then an inspirational saying is placed on top of the design. Sarvis says Mattoon also enjoys using pencils in addition to the markers to create his designs. “He loves doing it and every day asks for his paper and markers,” she says.

Mattoon has sold four signs so far and that means a lot to him, Sarvis observes: “He gets really excited when someone buys one of his signs.”

Mattoon doesn’t often speak but will tell you when he really wants something. “Usually his first purchase is another package of markers,” she confides.

Heath notes that not only does Mattoon have an avid interest in making the signs but completes complex jigsaw puzzles. “We were unaware that he had such a talent until he started and finished one of his own volition,” Heath notes, adding that about five of his completed puzzles have been framed and hung at Bladen.

Bladen’s art program has begun another project in which photograph-like sketches of the participants’ and staff’s faces are colorfully decorated.Bladen Face Sketches Collage

Heath explains that a computer software is used to print out a sketch-like design of the person’s face from a photograph. The facial outline printed out on 8 ½ by 11-inch sheets is similar to what appears in a coloring book. The individual sheets are then adhered to 20 x 30-inch foam board with contact paper.

“Some are intimidated by the sketches, but we persuade them to give it a try,” Heath says. “Every person gets one, as a way to celebrate themselves and assist with self-recognition.”

Initially when the sketches were introduced, participants were hesitant. “We try to show them the technique, teach them the process and assist them in learning,” Heath says. ​

Heath says he tells Bladen participants it is alright to make mistakes, and learn in the process: “I tell them you have to practice and make mistakes so you can improve. They can control their own life and be successful. Make a decision to do something.” ​

Both participants and staff assisted with coloring the sketches. The finished artwork is displayed in Bladen’s work area and kitchen.

Top collage: (top left) Montrel Ward proudly shows off his sign designs that he has sold; (top right) William Mattoon sketching the beginnings of a new sign.

Bottom collage: Some examples of the face sketches the Bladen day program participants have worked on and are hanging prominently at the site.


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