In six years, Amanda Baillargeon has gone from being a “back-room artist” to a prize-winning painter.
Her watercolor “The Wait” beat out dozens of works of art in a statewide contest for developmentally disabled adult artists. Voice! is a juried art show sponsored by The Arc Otsego.
Seventy-three artworks from 18 counties were chosen to appear in the show, which is an honor in itself, Baillargeon said.
Of those, hers was awarded first prize, for which she got $300. Baillargeon also sold the painting for $125 during the opening reception on July 12 at the Martin-Mullen Art Gallery at SUNY Oneonta.
In her watercolor, a bird perches on a wildflower stalk in front of a crimson sky with a hint of a blue waterway in the background.
“It looks like he’s waiting for something, like his mate or something,” Baillargeon said.
The 32-year-old Saratoga Springs woman has flourished as a student in Saratoga Bridges’ art program, in which artists paint, draw, create collages, sculpt with clay, take photographs and do print-making.
“I have pieces that she’s done that I’ve utilized in our publications, and I see how much more detailed, how much more professional they’ve become,” said Saratoga Bridges spokeswoman Pamela Polacsek.
But even before Saratoga Bridges’ program started in 2007, Baillargeon was creating art as one of a few Bridges clients in the day program who had expressed an interest in painting and drawing, Polacsek said. The agency started a group for the burgeoning artists in 2004.
“We used to be called the back-room artists,” Baillargeon said.
Now Bridges clients enter their art in local and statewide juried shows, some of which are open to everyone and are not limited to those with disabilities. They also sell their wares at the Creative Endeavors Gift Shop, which is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 6 to 9 p.m. on First Fridays on Front Street in Ballston Spa. For more information, visit www.saratogabridges.org.
“It was stepping outside of our conventional way of providing services, but it’s been so unbelievably successful and inspirational,” Polacsek said of the art program. Saratoga Bridges provides day services, transportation, residential services and work opportunities for adults with developmental disabilities.
The skills that clients learn in the art program transfer into other areas of their lives, boosting their self-confidence, helping them work together and deepening their concentration and patience, Polacsek said.
“Even individuals that are more timid and on the quieter side, they just become beyond animated when they describe their process and what it means to them,” she said.
And their works show the community what people with disabilities can do.
“They can be very sophisticated pieces,” Polacsek said.
At the Voices! show, Baillargeon attended the opening reception with her parents, Tom and Pam Baillargeon, and was surprised to win first prize.
“I was there because my art was there, and all of a sudden they said my name, and I was like, ‘Huh?’ ”
Fellow Bridges client Shannon Meers had her painting “Old Truck in a Field” chosen as the cover image for Voice! publicity like postcards and posters.
Baillargeon got the same honor in 2009 with a landscape of mountains reflected in a lake.
Baillargeon chooses bold colors for her paintings and gravitates toward “dramatic and beautiful landscapes,” said Lena Benvenuto, art coordinator for Saratoga Bridges.
“She’s a very dynamic person, energetic, joyful. So I would say that she brings those things to her artwork.”