- Associated Press - Saturday, February 1, 2014

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (AP) - The paintbrush sets Amy Petty free.

Her disabilities aside, when the paintbrush is in her hand, it might as well be the world.

“I can do anything I want,” Petty, a student at Pyramid’s adult day training facilities, said. “I like being able to paint anything I want.”

That day, she had chosen thick-stemmed iris flowers. The violet and yellow of the petals were standing distinctly out from the greens of the grass background. Petty’s works, along with that of her classmates, are not only “inspired,” as an art critic would say, they’re down-right impressive.

The gallery of Pyramid, a school for mentally and physically disabled adults, consists of various styles of art. From paintings to jewelry to sculptures and found art, most mediums are represented. And on the walls of the tiny front room facing Harrison Avenue, styles of artists throughout history are mimicked with adept accuracy.

“I have a lot of talent in here,” said Amanda Reinfeld, visual arts coordinator. “Some take three to four months, and others they can put in half a year of work into.

“That one took a little less than a year,” she said, pointing out a 4-by-6-foot found art project, designed and painted with methodical precision. “Just working a few hours every day.”

In other classes taught at Pyramid, students learn daily living skills like personal hygiene, how to balance a checkbook or how to set a table; and also general education curriculum of basic math skills, reading, current events and history.

The visual and performance arts classes, though, teach lessons the students otherwise would not encounter in the real world.

“It’s creative problem solving,” Reinfeld said. “They’re learning to balance colors and things like that, which makes them access parts of their brain they wouldn’t usually.”

The time and concentration creative work requires acts as a therapeutic tool, Reinfeld said, for most students at least.

Jonathan Crowley was painting a snow-caked mountain side, glowing orange in an early morning light with deep-green conifer trees scattered and jutting out from the white pallet. Crowley had an inclination toward the stark contrast of dark silhouettes in the foreground with sweeping, hazy landscapes in the back.

“It’s just fun,” Crowley said. “It doesn’t calm me down; I get excited when I paint.”

All the students’ pieces in Pyramid are completely their own, so a great deal of pride and hard work goes into each, Reinfeld said.

“I’ll teach them blending techniques on a separate sheet of paper but I’m completely hands off,” she said. “All the paintings were done by the students alone.”

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