Longtime readers know I go to the UMAR fund-raising luncheon every year. Its main purpose is to bring in dough for the Huntersville-based organization, which serves more than 400 physically or developmentally disabled adults in group homes and programs. This remains an especially crucial year for UMAR; cuts in government funding took away $216,000 of its budget for arts programs.
That’s worrisome, because my main purpose at these lunches is to find something beautiful. This year, I picked “Painting of Stained Glass” by Johnny Thornton. Despite the grayness of the day and the grayness of my mood – I was coming back to the office after an illness I didn’t shake for nearly three weeks – the sun shone in my hands as I carried the piece to my car.
I could have chosen a wry wire sculpture of a kite flier or ballerina. I might have picked one of the thick, comforting scarves. I browsed among jewelry and photography and oil paintings and boxes cheerfully decorated with ceramic hearts. In the end, I walked away with the piece that reminded me of Georges Rouault’s stained glass windows. Is the central figure in this painting a dancer? A bird? A flower? Is it even a figure at all? I’ll enjoy pondering the possibilities.
For a hundred reasons, it’s easy to judge people quickly. Looking at UMAR residents who have difficulty speaking or behave differently than we do, the first reaction can be limiting: What could these folks possibly accomplish? Seeing this annual outburst of creativity always cheers me, reminds me to think twice before making snap judgments about anybody and slightly intimidates me: I haven’t a tenth of the ability of some of the visual artists and weavers in this annual exhibition.
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Before the luncheon, the UMAR choir sang “Open the eyes of my heart, Lord.” Each time I see Thornton’s painting, I’ll be reminded that too few of us really walk through the world with our eyes open. Even fewer remember to open the eyes of our hearts.