Darryl Dixon, 32, is a Rockville resident who has been confined to a wheelchair since he was 5 and rarely gets to the beach. But as a painter, his favorite paintings are of the sea. The ideas come to him, he says, and "the rest comes very easily."
Dixon's sea paintings are among 58 works by 31 disabled artists that have gone on display at the McCrillis Gardens/Gallery in Bethesda. The poetry, pottery, weavings and watercolors were assembled by Martie Chidsey of the Montgomery County Department of Recreation as the first Art Exhibit by Disabled Artists.
Some of the works were generated through programs for the handicapped at Melwood Horticultural Training Center in Upper Marlboro and Inwood House in Silver Spring, and several were contributed by disabled students at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda.
One artist, Eric Mohn, a 37-year-old Rockville resident who was paralyzed from the neck down in a l977 automobile accident, paints exacting scenes from photos by holding a brush between his teeth.
The snowy pastures in his painting, "Bus Stop," have intricately drawn barbed wire fences, snow gently piled on fenceposts and other details that require great patience.
"It's just a matter of practice," Mohn said. "I'm working so close to the page that it seems to enable me to do detail. I could always draw, sketch and doodle, but I didn't know I had the talent after I was hurt. It turns out that I did."
Kathy Lord, a Gaithersburg resident who specializes in needle craft, said she chooses her subjects from books and completes each piece by sewing and counting every stitch on the canvas.
But few visitors to the display can appreciate the patience involved in completing the works, maintains county therapeutics coordinator Billie Wilson. "It obviously takes discipline for a person to paint or draw a straight line, but imagine the tremendous effort involved when you're severely disabled," Wilson said.
"An exhibit of this kind represents an opportunity for creative expression that these folks haven't had. It recognizes the artists professionally and as an educational tool. It makes the community more aware."
Carol Hidinger, an art teacher who works with trainees at Melwood, added that asking disabled students to produce art for exhibition was also a way of reaching through to them: "Most disabled people I work with have had no expectations made of them," she said, "and they get little credit for anything, but this is a form of therapy with rewards."
The exhibit serves another purpose: to tap the resources of disabled people in the community, proving Eric Mohn's contention that disabled people want to be judged for their work, not on the basis of their disability.
"I couldn't care less if anyone knows I'm disabled," he said. "I just want to be able to know my work has been recognized."
The Annual Art Exhibit by Disabled Artists is open this weekend at McCrillis Gardens/Gallery, 6910 Greentree Rd., Bethesda. It ends Sunday.