Editor's note: MidlandToday is republishing some of the most widely read stories from 2022. This story was originally published June 30.
Melissa MacDonald gingerly places a black balloon over the canvas’s rich dabs of paint and removes it slowly.
Underneath emerges a beautiful flower so full of life; much like the sense of vibrancy one gets while watching the CLH Developmental Support Services group of friends encourage one another as they create their original works of art at Quest Art School + Gallery.
The feeling of warmth, generosity and gentle camaraderie surrounds one upon entering this second-floor studio space as teacher Jean Miller explains the process of using objects other than brushes to create pretty paintings.
Rick Taylor lives in Georgian Village and offers a ready smile to the stranger who has come to enjoy this regular weekday morning session. Others work on their coaster creations with each one featuring their own spins on the colour wheel.
Tanya Pilon takes her time as she explains the colours she has used to create her coaster, which features felt backing. She’s employed green, white and black and it almost looks like a pastoral season one might find on an early autumn day.
Miller, who had her own art studio in Hamilton before moving to the area six years ago, then asks for what other colours the group should use for its large canvas garden scene they’re creating collaboratively using the balloons.
While MacDonald suggests blue, Michelle Lesperance is adamant that at least one of the colours be a shade of green because “green is the best colour,” something that’s apparent from her apron she and others created on their first day in class. Hers features a green cloud surrounding a woman with flowing dark hair.
When the time comes to press down on her balloon, Lesperance sports a wide smile as she takes her hand away, looks down and notices pretty flowers coloured green mixed with a bit of blue.
While Lesperance says most of her work goes to her boyfriend Jeff, she might give the coaster to her niece who will soon be turning six years old. MacDonald notes that her favourite project so far was when they made and coloured a heart.
CLH development support services staff member Nicole Bingham says the group, which also includes Léo Belcourt and support worker Melanie Turner who are away on this particular day, has a lot of fun together and is always exploring new things to do.
“We’ve been coming here for about three months, two of those months have been with Jean,” says Bingham, who credits Miller with her ingenuity in always coming up with engaging and fun ways to teach the class.
“I think they love having someone other than me instructing them. They’re always proud to show off their works to everyone afterwards.”
Besides Quest, they also visit Gateway Centre for Learning for classes, head to the library, meet friends at a park or just grab a cup of java from a local coffee shop.
“We’re trying to make different connections,” Bingham says, noting the five group members live in Tiny, Midland and Penetanguishene.
“They all either live at home with their families or on their own. We provide support for them in the community. Anyone is welcome with a developmental disability.”
For her part, Bingham has been working with the program fo the past 15 years.
“I’ve been here since I was fresh out of school,” she says, noting the job provides many rewards. “Every day is fun and there’s always something new. They’re always so grateful to be going out with their friends.
“We’re always out on a new adventure.”
While sculpting is her medium of choice, Miller says she enjoys teaching the class, having previously presented art classes for those residing at the Georgian Bay Seniors Lodge in Penetanguishene.
“You’re always writing lesson plans that fit the group you’re teaching,” Miller tells MidlandToday from the bright and airy classroom, a short distance away from where one of her impressive sculptures in the Midland Cultural Centre stands.
“I love teaching this group.”
While Miller has been collecting bottles to make lanterns for a future class, for the next one she tells them they will be using chains and paint to create butterflies.
A few excited cheers of joy follow.
For next week, another beautiful creation awaits in this warm embrace.