SMITH: New art exhibit at Sonoma County Museum will open eyes

It might be most intriguing to stop reading this until after you've treated yourself to the vivid, richly varied new art exhibit at the Sonoma County Museum and tried to guess what fine thread connects the artists.

Are you back already?

It's a marvelous array, isn't it? Every painting, ceramic, pen sketch and piece of fabric or wood art was created by someone who lives with a developmental, psychological or physical disability.

An entire room of the exhibit, "Margins to Mainstream: Contemporary Artists with Disabilities," features potent works by Sonoma County resident Rodger Cushing Warnecke, son of the late famed architect and friend of the Kennedys, John Carl "Jack" Warnecke.

Rodger Warnecke was a prized and prolific young artist when a malaise was diagnosed as something more serious: acute schizophrenia. He didn't paint for 25 years, then a new medication and art therapy freed him to return to the brush.

Filling the museum's ground-floor gallery are the borrowed works of 19 artists from the Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland.

Your eye may go first to the huge and fanciful fabric "Ghost Dog" by Carlos Perez, the intricate and layered pen work of Dan Miller or the pair of papier mache houseflies by Alan Lofberg.

"The art is really museum-quality," noted Director Diane Evans, who went personally to the Oakland art center to select pieces for the Santa Rosa exhibit. She said artwork by some clients of the center is sought by collectors up to the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

In a nook on the main floor you can watch animation videos created by two developmentally disabled artists in South Korea. They received a grant from their government to bring their works here.

Upstairs, there's a lively and colorful profusion of works of Sonoma County artists served by three local agencies: Becoming Independent, the region's largest non-profit serving people with disabilities; the Wellness and Advocacy Center, a Goodwill Industries self-help program for people who deal with mental health issues, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI.

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