TAC Industries employee Tony Whitesell has art on display at the Springfield Museum of Art. Contributed photo

Springfield exhibit displays work of artists with disabilities

Their art looks good enough to go on a menu and it’s being served by the Springfield Museum of Art.

A group of nine aspiring artists from TAC Industries has its own exhibit, Blue Plate Specials: The Abilities Connection, containing three-dimensional clay work now on display in the Beach Gallery through Oct. 31.

Admission for this exhibit is free.

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The work is the culmination of a two-year project led by Annette Eshelman, the museum’s curator of education. Prior to joining the museum, she’d worked with some of the TAC workers. TAC employs people with disabilities.

The aim was to try to help the individuals with disabilities and strong artistic abilities realize their aspirations. Over the years, Eshelman has seen them gain more confidence as artists.

“It’s something they can call their own,” she said. “They are so proud of their successes. Every lesson builds on the next and doing little things builds to something larger.”

Having previously worked with paints, fabric art and other two-dimensional materials, Eshelman said it was easier for the artists to use their hands working with clay, resulting in their first public exhibit.

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Work on Blue Plate Specials, which is devoted to the artists’ favorite food items they’d like to order in a restaurant, began this past January and created 14 pieces.

They came up with items like “Grandpa’s Flapjacks,” which contains pancakes with butter, red raspberries and sausage links; “Brain Food,” consisting of grilled red snapper, carrots and small potatoes; and “Big Jim’s Burger.”

The titles are how you’d see them on a menu. The artists recently shared their enthusiasm at an opening reception.

“There were grins from ear to ear, so excited to talk about their works to the community, full of pride,” Eshelman said.

The artworks are complemented by a series of documentary photos of the works in progress done by TAC staff member Michael Brassfield.

Eshelman has as much pride as her artists. Her mom worked with individuals with developmental disabilities and fell in love with the work, leading to this project.

“This says success for them and it leaves me with a feeling of success,” she said.

While this exhibition is a big step, it’s not the final one. Eshelman is applying for professional art shows to share the work to an even wider audience.

The TAC group’s next project will be a printmaking experiment with etchings on Plexiglas and silkscreens.

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