Twenty-four-year-old Jody Hanna works on one of her creative art projects at Inclusive Arts. (Jodi Brak/Salmon Arm Observer)

Blind B.C. artist uses fingers for creative vision

Shuswap art studio helps people with special needs express themselves

Thanks to kindness and commitment, 24-year-old Jody Hanna has been able to expand her creative abilities.

Born with optic nerve hypoplasia, Hanna is blind.

A stem cell procedure in early 2012, funded in part through community funding, failed to return Hanna’s sight, but the irrepressible young woman has found a way to use her fingers to “see” her artistic creations come to life at Inclusive Arts on Hudson Avenue.

“This is a small business so I couldn’t offer employment, but I said if she wants to come in and make things, I’ll give her a section to sell her stuff,” says owner Barb Belway of her response to Employment Service Centre job developer Carol Albrecht’s request. “She started one day a week for a couple of hours and now comes in twice a week.”

Hanna has her own little section, with her artist statement on the wall, and sold several items before Christmas.

“She’s super outgoing and friendly and likes chatting with people,” says Belway. “Her things are quite beautiful and intricate; she takes a stretch canvas and applies items to create collages – very mixed media.”

Belway says Hanna’s creations are dependent on her song of the day.

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“Her very first one was a tribute to Michael Bublé’s It’s a Beautiful Day,” she says. “She took beads, buttons and paper. It’s very tactile and you’re supposed to feel it because it’s Jody’s expression of it.”

With clay donated by Belway, Hanna is making her own buttons and beads in colours she chooses.

“I ask how does it make you feel? That’s the way she chooses, the way she experiences the concept of colour,” Belway says.

“We discuss what would you like the project to feel – cool, wintry or hot summery, of sun and the beach? That’s kind of how I understand she views colour.”

Belway encourages people to support Hanna by buying her various creative pieces of work.

“It’s not a charity; you’re getting something beautiful with a lot of love put into it.”

The store does not take any of the proceeds from Hanna’s work. She takes home 75 per cent of her sales, with the remaining 25 per cent going to the Canadian Institute For the Blind.

For her part, Hanna is happy to report she is no longer bored and, while she likes working with clay, she much prefers her collages.

Related: Blind teen waits for results of stem cell surgery

“They feel good, textured. There’s all sorts of textured things on it, with lines, ridges, stripes, bumps and pom pom balls, puffy bumps, sparkles, grooves and divots,” she says with enthusiasm. “I’ve been staying happy.”

And that encourages Belway, who says a big part of what she does is to offer a place for people with special needs, who are under-represented, to enjoy creating art.

She has clients from Kindale, Shuswap Association for Community Living and Canadian Mental Health who are having fun and developing self-worth through projects that include painting, working with clay, ceramics, handicrafts and making seasonal objects.

“There’s always something you can do.”

Albrecht meanwhile, says Belway is helping people with various barriers and giving them “one more step” to find employment.

“Unless you’ve met Jody and seen her work, it’s hard to know all the things she can do,” Albrecht says, praising Belway for her generosity and willingness to teach Jody new things. “Barb is phenomenal, so giving of herself and her talents.”

Belway, a longtime artist, says she enjoys many aspects of art, including painting, sculpting, stained glass, pottery and drawing.

And anyone can take advantage of the art opportunities available at Inclusive Arts: daytime and evening pottery classes (hand-building and wheel), walk-in ceramic painting, weekly craft/seasonal projects, Kid’s Club, daytime classes for home-schooled kids, Saturday morning kid crafting, coffee and colouring with weekly prizes, along with a coffee and tea bar.

Inclusive Arts is also a gift shop featuring products and works by local artisans, pottery made on-site in the studio, art supplies, art colouring books, jewelry and novelties.


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Jody Hanna gets a great deal of satisfaction in creating beads and her richly textured art projects. (Jodi Brak/Salmon Arm Observer)

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