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The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

Express Yourself! Art Auction showcases talent and inclusivity

Kate Myers
The express Yourself! Art Auction included artwork made from students in the T.K Martin Center for Technology and Disability.

The T.K. Martin Center for Technology and Disability hosted the third annual Express Yourself! Art Auction on Saturday, April 20.

The auction raised $3,000 to benefit the Express Yourself! Art Program, which provides people with disabilities an outlet to express themselves through creative works. Kasee Stratton-Gadke, the director of the T.K. Martin Center, said that half the artwork proceeds go to the artist, and the other half goes to the Express Yourself! Art Program. 

The program featured dozens of artworks from five different artists, ranging from 9 to 48, who all have a type of disability. The artwork, ranging from Christmas ornaments to watercolors, was displayed around the room while guests looked and participated in the silent auction. Stratton-Gadke also said that the prints and greeting cards from the artworks shown on Saturday were available to purchase year-round in the waiting room of the T.K. Martin Center.

The auction featured a live painting by Kendrell Daniels, a junior art major at Mississippi State University who was born without arms. The crowd watched as he reached out with his foot, picked up a paintbrush between his big toe and carefully applied white paint to a maroon background. In time, the strokes of white paint turned into an image of a baseball—fitting for an event held during Super Bulldog Weekend.

Gracie Conn, the art coordinator for the Express Yourself! Art Program, has worked with the T.K. Martin Center for four years. She’s seen the program grow from one student, Daniels, in 2020 to include other active artists. Conn said the art program is open to anyone with a disability.

Courtesy | Gracie Conn

“There’s no criteria past the fact that they have to have some sort of learning, physical or intellectual disability,” Conn said. “And it’s open to any age, too. Our youngest is nine and our oldest is in her 40s or 50s. So, you know, there’s no limit or age criteria, either.”

Conn said she tries to expose the students to as many artistic mediums as possible through the art classes.

“We do a lot of cool stuff!” Conn said. “I try to do art projects that are things they might not have been able to do before or have access to. We do ceramics—I have a wheel downstairs. I try to just get them as opened up to things like that as possible, which I hope they enjoy.”

Conn also hosts a Wednesday art program for children in the Starkville community with and without disabilities.

“It’s an inclusive art class” Conn said. “…We had Kendrell come last December to do a guided painting with them. Kendrell chose the piece that he wanted to paint and the colors as well. The kids, they were very excited, very nervous about it because you don’t really know how to go about [painting with your feet].”

Kate Myers

Conn said that Daniels was able to instruct the artists on how to grip their toes around the paintbrush, use their legs to support their feet and, most critically, be patient as they learned this new skill.

“They did fantastic and they thought it was so cool,” Conn said. “I’d say that it might have been their favorite project that they did last semester.”

The resulting eight paintings from the December class were featured in the Saturday auction.

Jenna Hersey, a student in the Express Yourself! Art Program, stood beside her paintings, excitedly telling each passerby about her work.

“This one reminds me of my mom,” Hersey said of her orange acrylic painting “Gourd Bird House.” “She loves birds a lot, so I painted a bird feeder with her favorite bird, a blue jay.”

Nature is a recurring motif in Hersey’s artwork, which was sold at the auction. Her artwork also included a painting of her golden retriever, Sammy, and a giant painted canvas of a waterfall.

As the auction continued, people approached Hersey to show appreciation for her artwork.

“I can’t wait to hang my wind chime!” a patron told Hersey, who pumped her fists in the air.

Kelli Mendenhall, a junior Kinesiology major and a T.K. Martin Ambassador, stood at the entrance of the T.K. Martin Center and welcomed guests to the auction. She said that she had a lot of love for the art program.

“I love seeing how much the families get from this—being able to see their kid’s artwork and the kids get to show their parents like ‘Hey! I made this!’” Mendenhall said. “…It makes [the students] feel more important about themselves, and I think, you know, that’s a whole lot more important than just buying a piece of art.”

About the Contributor
Kate Myers
Kate Myers, News Editor
Kate Myers is a freshman communication major. She currently serves as the News Editor. [email protected]
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