Lancaster Artists with Disabilities in ‘A Life Like This’ Documentary | Entertainment
David Nolt has been painting since he was two.
However, because Nolt was born with the rare condition arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, he cannot use his arms. That didn’t stop Nolt from creating – the now 42-year-old painted with his mouth for most of his life with great success.
Nolt’s story, as well as a glimpse into his daily life as an artist living in Leola, can be seen in Lancaster documentarian James Hollenbaugh’s new documentary, A Life Like This. The 45-minute film also highlights Malcolm Corley, Adam Musser and Sybil Roe Thompson, three local artists with intellectual disabilities.
Corley’s work has been shown at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC and the State Museum of Pennsylvania, Musser creates paintings and three-dimensional art at the Friendship Heart Gallery & Studio in Lancaster City, and Thompson works in reading from a studio at the Goggleworks Center for the Arts. Each of these three artists has been diagnosed with autism.
Hollenbaugh served as artist-in-residence at Franklin & Marshall College last fall, where he created the film and organized the accompanying art exhibition featuring works by the film’s artists, thanks to a grant from the F&M Center for the Sustained Engagement with Lancaster.
Nolt says the film is an opportunity to show not only the art he creates, but the fact that art is his livelihood.
“That’s actually what I do professionally, I don’t just do it for fun and fun,” says Nolt. “When the plumber comes to fix my pipes, it costs the same as everyone else’s, and I can’t sell a painting for a few hundred dollars just because I had fun with it and spent a month on it.”
The A Life Like This exhibit, which also features the film on a loop, is open weekdays from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm at the College’s Winter Visual Arts Center. An official screening and Q&A with Hollenbaugh will be held at 7:00 p.m. at the Winter Visual Arts Center on Friday, March 31st.
“I wanted to write a really positive story about how art can help someone overcome disabilities or at least make life a little easier,” says Hollenbaugh. “That’s what I tried to find, and that’s what I found in these four artists. The stories are really powerful and I wanted to document them.”
“A Life Like This” begins plaintively with artist Malcolm Corley taking the mic at F&M’s Nevin Chapel to sing “This Little Light of Mine,” accompanied by his mother, pianist Maria Thompson Corley. The lyrics serve as a fitting opening salvo to the works within, as each artist has found a way to let their creativity shine through one sort of means or another.
Hollenbaugh has made short films about outsider artists in the past. He says he was first drawn to the artists by the power of their work and then, as he got to know them better, their stories.
“I wanted to focus specifically on artists with disabilities because I felt like they were really underrepresented in the art world in general, but also here in Lancaster.”
Hollenbaugh noted the work of Friendship Heart Gallery & Studios, which hosts classes, displays artwork and provides other opportunities for people with disabilities. But he would like to see greater representation of people with disabilities throughout Lancaster’s arts scene.
“I wanted to bring this to the attention of some people in the area who create really cool art and maybe for some reason can’t show in other galleries.”
From his studio in a barn in Leola, Nolt says Hollenbaugh emailed him last fall with the idea for his film. They exchanged ideas, although the two first met in person on the first day of shooting Hollenbaugh.
Nolt has long been a fixture in the Lancaster County arts community, having previously served as President of the Lititz Art Association and appearing at various First Friday events over the years. Since 2001, Nolt’s primary income has come from Mouth & Foot Painting Artists, a global organization that compensates artists for the reproduction rights to their work so it can be sold worldwide.
“His paintings are incredibly detailed. It’s realism, not abstract in any way,” says Hollenbaugh of Nolt’s art. “I was really interested in what I saw, and then when I met him, everything got even better. He’s really quite self-sufficient, and I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like not being able to use my hands or arms, let alone creating something like that.”
Nolt likens his job to that of a waiter, who earns a minimum wage and gets “tips” at the end of the year based on how many of his paintings sell. Because of the company’s global nature, Nolt says his paintings tend toward general themes, as opposed to more personal work.
“For example, if I were doing Amish or Southwest art, it would only be relevant to that area,” says Nolt. “The stuff I paint could be used anywhere and in any country. If I only made a certain kind of art, it wouldn’t be in Europe or China. So I try to focus on something more universal.”
At the installation’s opening reception on Friday, March 10, Hollenbaugh, Nolt and the other three artists were in attendance to welcome guests to A Life Like This. Some of the artists met for the first time and beamed as they presented their work to friends, family and new fans.
While further distribution plans for the documentary are on hold for now, Nolt says he has no elevated expectations for the film’s reception at this time, other than additional recognition for his work as an artist.
“It’s a great way to get the public to understand that one disabled person isn’t really inferior to another person in terms of artistic quality or whatever,” says Nolt. “There’s a perception that if a disabled person does something for you, it might not be of that quality or it might not be at all. But it can be just as high quality.”
A mud sale. A consignment market for children’s clothing and toys. A cowboy concert.
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