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Nina Anderson-Funk stands beside one of her paintings Tuesday during a reception for Studio Sfumato’s summer art workshop. Her paintings and the work of other developmentally disabled artists are on display at the Rogue Gallery & Art Center through the end of the week. - Jamie Lusch

Art inspires growth

After a lifetime of drawing simple linear scribbles, Nina Anderson-Funk began painting curving swaths and circles during her first day in Studio Sfumato's summer art workshop for developmentally disabled students.

Nina's artistic advancement is precisely the type of growth the monthlong art program was intended to inspire, said Dan Mish, director of Studio Sfumato.

"The art itself was fun. Some of them had experience drawing, but a lot of them had never painted before," the professional artist said of his nine new students.

Studio Sfumato's function is to feature the work of disabled artists, but its soul resides in helping its members grow creatively. Mish's idea to offer free art classes to disabled high school students through the Southern Oregon Education Service District was not only an opportunity to create a few budding artists — it was an exciting experience for the teachers, too. Mish and his assistant, Gwen Lema, the ESD's vocational program specialist, spent five Tuesday afternoons encouraging the students to take chances with shapes and colors.

"It was a blast. It was all about seeing what they could do and accomplish," said Lema.

At an artists' reception at the Rogue Gallery & Art Center in Medford on Tuesday, Nina grinned and nodded exuberantly when asked if she enjoyed learning to paint at the Sfumato youth workshop.

"Yes!" she said, shouting over the live music.

Two of Nina's paintings are framed and on display at the gallery. One is a collage with a red background and swatches of bold type and swirls of primary colors. The second features a dark background with red and blue curving arcs and bright yellow circles.

Nina's mother, Judith Anderson-Funk, said she didn't believe her 18-year-old daughter, who is physically handicapped as well as developmentally challenged, had created such boldly colorful orbs.

"When they showed me the painting, I said 'That can't be Nina's because Nina only draws lines,' " the mother said. "In one day they had her doing things she'd never done before."

Communicating with the young artists was a challenge because some have disabilities that make them nonverbal, but Mish said their enthusiasm was infectious. Teaching the students how to mix colors, apply paint to canvas and express their highly individualized inner artist was exciting, he said.

"Art can really be seen in a lot of ways. I let them keep their own particular way of doing things. As you can see, there are very different styles," Mish said, showing a visitor the range of the students' work.

Studio Sfumato is an offshoot of Living Opportunities, a nonprofit organization that works with people with developmental disabilities. The student workshop, while free to the participants, cost about $4,000 for staff time, materials and framing. Funding for the project came from a Carpenter Foundation grant, said Jim Gochenour, development director of Living Opportunities.

Nina will take her paintings home after the Sfumato show ends next week, and her mother hopes she can continue studying art with Mish.

"All I can say is, Dan does magic. It's been great for her and gratifying for the family," Judith Anderson-Funk said.

The art workshop's first session has been such a success that it will be repeated next summer, Gochenour said.

"It's a wonderful program. It's something people can see and touch and get their minds around," he said.

The students' work will be on display at the Rogue Gallery, 40 S. Bartlett St., through the end of this week. To see more Studio Sfumato artwork, visit the Web site at: www.studiosfumato.org.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.

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