For Lytina Hills, painting is a meal ticket. It’s the way she makes money, which is good because she’s rather fond of clothes.
“Take these downtown,” she tells Lori Schoen, art director, reminding her to transport Hills’ circle-and-dot paintings to the Shared Lives Studio & Gallery at 20 N. St. Clair St., where others will fashion them into a variety of objects that will be sold.
With a strong work ethic and a talent for pairing colors, Hills, 43, paints on most anything that doesn’t move in the art room at Lott Industries in Maumee’s Arrowhead Park.
In its fifth year, Shared Lives provides jobs for people who have developmental disabilities such as epilepsy, cerebral palsy, and mental retardation. They spend their days painting, drawing, sculpting, or working with clay. Over the years, Schoen has seen them become more skilled and confident, thanks to people enjoying and purchasing their handiwork.
“Something about their work is so pure and innocent, and people seem to be attracted to that,” she says. Especially notable is the fine color combinations on garden art, clocks affixed to original paintings, large metal dragonflies and frogs, Christmas-tree ornaments, jewelry, note cards, coffee mugs, and can’t-keep-in-stock 72-inch-long painted silk scarves.
Schoen’s significant task is to turn color and shape produced by the 38 studio participants into products that sell.
“I have to figure out ways for people to make money,” says Schoen, who has headed the program since 2008 after a Lott Industries contract with Ford Motor Co. was not renewed. She estimates the gallery sold $60,000 to $70,000 worth of inventory in 2012.
People request or are recommended to be part of the studio. They’re paid an hourly wage plus a commission on original work that sells. Most of them attend the downtown studio/gallery and like its bright, open first floor in the 19th-century building with high ceilings, gleaming wooden floors, and huge windows on two sides. It faces Fifth Third Field.
Shanna Richie, 24, has attended for a year, always willing to do whatever’s needed.
“I would describe myself as a very creative person with a positive attitude,” says the 2008 graduate of Sylvania Southview High School. She likes all shades of pink and animal prints. One recent afternoon, Richie faced a long wooden frame on which was stretched a white fabric the studio is testing for its scarves. Using silk-dye paint, she brushed voluminous hibiscus blooms, a flower she that charmed her with its vibrancy when she first saw it in Florida.
“I do all kinds of mixed media because I like to learn and grow,” she says. “At Shared Lives, everything’s bright and happy.”
She sits across a large table from Corey Hawkins, 20, whose enthusiasm for the University of Toledo cannot be contained.
“I always paint UT because it’s my favorite place,” says Hawkins, a Rogers High School grad. His ears sport multicolored hearing aids.
Growing up near and eager to attend UT, he first painted its iconic University Hall bell tower with realistic grays and browns. “But he started adding color and now they’re just incredibly beautiful,” Schoen says. He also paints animals and enjoys working with glass mosaics, chalk, clay, and cut-metal flowers.
Marc Arnett, 23, has loved superheroes since he was a child and has developed his own comic book-like character, Skullman, for whom he has a story line. Schoen suggested he incorporate intriguing backgrounds for Skullman, so they explored Toledo with cameras, snapping photos of skylines and recognizable buildings, which he keeps in his drawer at the studio. Among the gallery’s best sellers is Arnett’s painting of Toledo and the High Level Bridge as seen from East Toledo.
He wielded a pencil on a six-inch-square stretched canvas, neatly outlining Toledo’s skyline in the foreground and New York City’s behind it. He learned how to utilize perspective when studying art at Scott High School.
“It keeps me focused and happy,” he says. “I like bright colors.”
Not only has the level of work become more sophisticated, but professional artists increasingly volunteer to demonstrate their crafts. And the studio just got a glass kiln, says Schoen, who has a fine art degree from Bowling Green State University.
To learn more about Shared Lives, go to shop.lottindustries.com/studio.
Contact Tahree Lane at email@example.com and 419-724-6075.