Schenectady County

Sunnyview exhibition focuses on disabled artists

For one more week, at Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital, you can see 51 artworks by 34 artists in th

It’s time to go to the hospital, but please don’t be afraid.

For one more week, at Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital, you can see 51 artworks by 34 artists in this year’s International Acquisitions Exhibition for Artists with Disabilities.

It’s a juried fine art show — paintings, sculpture, photography and mixed media — by artists from across the country and Argentina — with all kinds of physical and mental disabilities, from brain injuries and autism to cerebral palsy, amputation and blindness.

Ninth International Acquisitions Exhibition for Artists with Disabilities

WHERE: Second floor hallway, Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital, 1270 Belmont Ave., Schenectady. To see artwork in therapy rooms, call Sarah Martinez at 382-4500.

WHEN: Through Oct. 27. Exhibit is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.


MORE INFO: 382-4500 or

This year, the exhibit returns to Sunnyview, a center for helping people recovering from stroke, injury or illness, and it’s on the walls of a second floor hallway, so you’re likely to encounter medical staff and patients in wheelchairs.

“We wanted to try to bring people into the hospital,” says Sarah Martinez, director of the hospital’s annual fund for the Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital Foundation and former executive director of Albany Center Gallery.

Since the show debuted in 1999, it’s been held in the hospital five times, the last in 2007. For two years, in 2003 and 2004, it moved downtown, to the old Carl Co. space that’s now part of Proctors. After the 2007 show, it took a four-year hiatus and then bounced back last year in a new space, the Fenimore Gallery at Proctors.

Artwork in the hospital’s hallways is nothing new at Sunnyview, but this year, for the first time, more than a dozen paintings and photographs were hung in therapy rooms, where patients learn how to walk or get themselves out of bed.

“The patients love it. The therapists love it or hate it,” says Martinez, explaining how the art distracts some patients from their therapy.

Some artists speak to their disabilities in their work, but most do not, though you can read about their lives and their art in the labels next to their work.

“Art lets me express things I cannot communicate any other way. Art saved my life, and I do not want to imagine where I would be without it,” says Sonya Seitz 26, of Johnstown, Pa., who has been dealing with Lupus since she was 1, and lives with daily pain and fatigue.

“Coiled Colon” is her photograph of a seated woman in a hospital gown who covers her face in disbelief or despair as a large stuffed tube, made of the same fabric as the gown, encircles her body and invades the room.

“Art gives power and protection,” writes Mame N’Diaye, a Maryland artist with Asperger’s syndrome and bipolar disorder who works in pen and ink, making colorful designs. “It’s a third eye, and if you use it wisely, it can tell you what life is all about.”

In 2009, when Kevin O’Connell lost the sight in his right eye and was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, he became an adventurer. At Sunnyview, you can see his photo, “Sunrise Over Grand Canyon.”

“I decided to sell everything and go out West to shoot national parks in creative ways,” O’Connell says.

Andrew Ortiz, a Texan who has lived with epileptic seizures for 35 years, says his digitally manipulated photographs, like “Sleep,” which won the exhibit’s second-place award, express the “intense psychological impact of dealing with physical challenges.”

“From the Inside Out,” a mixed-media sculpture by Esther Anne Wilhelm of Hawaii, won the top prize. Made of satin and paper, it looks like a strapless gown decorated with scraps of medical bills and reports, Band-Aids, capsules and pills.

“The artist performs in this dress,” says Martinez, who put the “gown” on a mannequin and stood it in a hospital hallway.

Wilhelm was severely injured in a hit-and-run accident. Giving visibility to her trauma has helped her let go of negativity.

This year’s jurors were Jeanne Flanagan, director of the Esther Massry Gallery and an adjunct art professor at The College of Saint Rose; and Jim Richard Wilson, director of the Opalka Gallery and art history lecturer at The Sage Colleges.

“It was a surprising experience for me,” says Flanagan. “I don’t think of artists and disabilities together. I think of art. And I was definitely moved by the art I saw here. Art crosses all borders, all boundaries.”

Wilson and Flanagan looked at more than 500 images submitted by 100 artists without knowing any of their disabilities. To pick the winners, they looked at the original artwork after it arrived at Sunnyview. After the artists were selected, Flanagan says she read the bios “out of curiosity.”

There’s only one artist in the show from the Capital Region: Heidi Schroeder, an award-winning, 33-year-old painter who has Down syndrome and lives in a group home in Niskayuna. Schroeder has also won many silver and gold medals as a member of the Albany Chapter Special Olympics swim team.

Devoted to promoting art as therapy, Sunnyview offers, in addition to the international juried show, a gallery with year-round, changing exhibits and art classes open to any disabled person, not just Sunnyview patients.

Categories: Life and Arts

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