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First Friday in Fredericksburg puts spotlight on the arts

“As I grew up in years gone by, mood swings came, I knew not why; Something wrong way deep inside, my moods would take me for a ride.”

So writes James Clark of Fredericksburg, who said he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1982, when he was 14 years old. As Clark’s poem continues, it describes the challenges he’s faced over the years as he has struggled to come to terms with his illness.

One method has been through art.

“I love a blank canvas, turning it into a piece of art,” Clark said. “Painting is a way to express my emotions. It makes me feel good about myself.”

Some of Clark’s artwork may be viewed this Friday in “The Art of Recovery” exhibit, along with about 50 other works in a variety of mediums by other adults with mental illness.

On display through May at PONSHOP in downtown Fredericksburg, the show is organized by members of the Kenmore Club, a psychosocial rehabilitation program operated by the Rappahannock Area Community Services Board.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of this exhibit, which always occurs in May to coincide with National Mental Health Month. In celebration, a special presentation has been planned called “Art, Expression, Light,” named for a quote by Walt Whitman, for First Friday festivities at PONSHOP tomorrow night.

“We have performers who will share the spoken word, piano pieces, singing and poetry,” said Amy Hanley, Kenmore Club coordinator. “It will be a unique show.”

“We’re really excited to add this new forum for the performing artists to be included in this exhibit,” said Michelle Wagaman, public information officer for RACSB. “We have received poetry submissions in the past which we had to decline.”

All the participants are adults with mental health challenges. Decorations for the show and flowers will be provided for sale, which will benefit individuals with intellectual disabilities such as autism and Down syndrome.

The 10-year anniversary is particularly meaningful for Bill Hartland, Mental Health Residential Supervisor for RACSB, who came up with the idea for an art exhibit of this kind and organized the first one in 2004.

At the time, Hartland said, he was an art student at the University of Mary Washington and a volunteer at RACSB, where he met several individuals who were also artists. He proposed staging an exhibit exclusively for artists with mental illness, and with the support of RACSB and Mary Washington he made it happen. The first exhibit was displayed in UMW’s DuPont Gallery.

“‘The Art of Recovery’ provides a forum for artists to gain confidence in their abilities, challenge mental health stigma and experience community support,” Hartland said. “Many of the artists are quite outgoing and happy to talk about their artwork opening night.”

This will be the third year James Clark has displayed his work in “The Art of Recovery.” The experience has helped Clark gain the confidence to accomplish other goals.

“I set a goal to sell a piece of art,” Clark said, “and I did it. My next goal was to do my own show, and I’m doing that now.”

In addition to his artwork at PONSHOP, 10 more of his paintings will be viewable at Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, just a few blocks away.

“I never thought I would do a show,” Clark said. “This has helped me so much.”

As he creates art, Clark said he has found peace through his relationship with his own Creator.

Clark’s poem concludes, “So I am who I am, Created this way, a child of God, to live for Him each day.”

What: “The Art of Recovery” 10th anniversary

When: May 2–26; First Friday Reception, May 2, 5–9 p.m.; “Art, Expression, Light” presentation, 7 p.m.

Where: PONSHOP Studio and Gallery, 712 Caroline St., Fredericksburg

Info: 540/656-2215;

Emily Jennings: 540/374-5000


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