COLRAIN, Mass. – Twenty-five-year-old Dallas W.R. Looman has wanted to be a professional artist since he was a child, drawing pictures to show his mother what his school day had been like.

Looman was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2½ and has struggled with language, so drawing became an effective way for him to communicate.

Looman is moving closer to his dream of becoming a professional artist.

“Very Special Arts,” the international organization on arts and disability and an educational affiliate of The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, with support from Volkswagen Group of America, will present an exhibition of artwork by emerging artists, ages 16 to 25 with disabilities, at the S. Dillon Ripley Center of the Smithsonian Institution from Oct. 1 through Jan. 5.

Looman is among the honored artists, and will receive an Award of Excellence for $2,000.

“I was very excited,” he said of his accomplishment.

His 30-by-22-inch untitled picture was done in his media of choice: pastels. It includes a shoe, a shell and a piece of wood done in orange, black, brown and yellow.

Looman, the son of Colrain residents Rev. Michael C. and Yvonne M.V. Looman, likes to work with pastels because he likes to smooth the chalk-like substance with his fingers, and blow the residual dust away.

The 15 award recipients will be awarded a total of $60,000 and have their work on display in D.C.

In advance of the exhibit, the young artists will go to the nation’s capital for two days of educational events and seminars as part of their award package.

They were scheduled to be honored at a private reception displaying their artwork last Tuesday in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill, hosted by the Kennedy Center and Volkswagen.

The following day, the artists were scheduled to meet with the exhibit jurors for a series of professional development activities.The artists were set to meet the directors and curators of the contemporary galleries in Washington, D.C., learning how to make connections with museum professionals in their own areas and how gallery exhibitions are selected and produced.

Yvonne Looman planned to travel to the nation’s capital with her son for the activities.

“This has opened up opportunities for Dallas he might not otherwise have had,” she said. “His goal since he was young was to be a professional artist. This gives him the opportunity to do that.”

Looman had an art show in Deerfield several years ago, and sold about a dozen of his pastels.

His mother hopes to set up other shows.

“Like every parent, I am concerned what my children will do for their future and how they will make a living in the world,” said Looman, who has a daughter, Hadley J., 22. “I see Dallas’ future is his passion, his art.”

She got an application for the art competition from the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst where her son volunteers on Fridays, doing studio preparation work for visitors like cutting paper, setting out materials and sharpening pencils. She submitted three of his pictures and was notified of his winning entry early in the summer.

This year’s artists were asked to address the theme “In/finite Earth” by creating work that represents viewpoints at the intersection of environmentalism, contemporary creativity and the disability experience.

The exhibition includes drawing, stoneware, prints, painting, photography, clay, wood and ceramics. Following its close at the Smithsonian, “In/finite Earth” will embark on a national tour to museums and galleries.

VSA, the international organization on arts and disability, was founded more than 35 years ago by Jean Kennedy Smith, whose sister was born disabled and led another sister from the same family of President John Kennedy to found the Special Olympics.

The VSA’s mission is to provide arts and education opportunities for people with disabilities and increase access to the arts for all. Kennedy, former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, is a member of the board of trustees of the John F. Kennedy Center.

Looman will use his prize money for tuition at Greenfield Community College where he takes two classes each semester — an art class and weight room training. A non-matriculated student, he likes going to school there because “it’s fun and people are nice.”

“They teach me how to do art,” he added.

Yvonne Looman said the college experience expands her son’s horizons.

“Change does not come easily to him,” so his teachers have helped him expand his media to pastels and water colors from the charcoal, pencils and markers he used to favor, she said.

Looman also likes to take walks, watch anime films and bowl.

“Dallas is a very gentle and loving person,” his mother said. “He’s very tender, very polite, just downright sweet.”

And now he’s an awarded artist.


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