The Language of Art on Display: Artwork by Seven Autistic Students Exhibited

Seven Walden School students and one former student—all of whom are on the autism spectrum—are exhibiting their artwork at the Bean Runner Café in Peekskill this week, proving that art is a language all its own.

The show, which was the brainchild of Peekskill artist Wilfredo Morel and artist Donna Mikkelsen, is on display all week and will have a reception Saturday, April 29, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the café at 201 South Division Street in Peekskill.

“So often we focus on what students with autism can’t do instead of focusing on what they can do,” said Jesse Steiner, art teacher. “To successfully make art, I look for something that each student can do and wants to do. Then we use that activity to make art.”

The show is proof that there are no limits to how one can create art. For Scotty Yaremko, a 14-year-old student who likes to twirl something in his hands, Steiner provided wooden discs that could be soaked in water color paint. Scotty spun the discs on paper creating abstract art.

For Steiner, the more important thing was that while creating the work “Scotty looked mesmerized and fully engrossed.”

Another student, Casey Aguiar, 20, used trays of ice to create artwork that was constantly changing as the ice melted. Casey painted the ice and photos were taken at various stages as the ice melted, resulting in colorful abstract artworks.

“All of the work with kids is about process more than product,” Steiner said. “Even when the end result is beautiful, it is not what is really important. It is the experience the kids have making it and pride they feel at having made it.”

Tommy Cusamano, a 13-year-old fan of the Star Wars movie franchise, used citrus fruits and acrylic paint to create his own version of the Death Star, a fictional moon-sized space station. Christian Irizarry, a 14-year-old, created an acrylic print by cutting and gluing pieces of foam to cardboard to make a design, applying paint to the foam and pressing it to paper.

River Jo Casey, a 15-year-old student, also created a work using citrus fruit and acrylic paint, while Alexis Aguiar used sharpie markers to draw the teen favorite, Katy Perry. And Emmanuel Ayewah, 21, created an image using a potter’s wheel and water-based marker.

Former Walden student Evan Wolfsdorf, 18, was also represented in the show. Evan’s paintings are recreations of works by master artists. One is Midsummer Eve by Edward Robert Hughes, and the other is Spring in Town by Grant Wood.

Steiner said Evan’s process for creating artwork is to take on the persona of the famous artist. By researching biographical information about the artist and employing dramatic techniques like accents and gestures, Evan recreates the physical presence of each artist as a means of reinterpreting their life and work.

Steiner, who worked extensively with Evan during his time at Walden School, said Evan has a “very, very deep artistic vision that could not be contained by anything.”

As for the exhibit, Steiner said, “What is really special about this is that it is in the community. It may not be the town they live in but it is part of the broader community.”