Lancaster Disabled Artists Featured in ‘A Life Like This’ Documentary | Entertainment
David Nolt has been painting since the age of 2.
However, as Nolt was born with the rare disease Arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, he does not have the use of his arms. That didn’t stop Nolt from creating – the 42-year-old painted with his mouth with great success for most of his life.
Nolt’s story, as well as a glimpse into his day-to-day life as an artist living in Leola, is featured in the new documentary “A Life Like This” by Lancaster documentarian James Hollenbaugh. The 45-minute film also spotlights Malcolm Corley, Adam Musser and Sybil Roe Thompson, three local artists with mental disabilities.
Corley’s work has been exhibited at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. and the State Museum of Pennsylvania, Musser creates paintings and three-dimensional art at Friendship Heart Gallery & Studio in Lancaster City, and Thompson operates from a studio at the Goggleworks Center for the Arts. while reading. Each of these three artists has been diagnosed with autism.
Hollenbaugh served as artist-in-residence at Franklin & Marshall College last fall, creating the film and curating its counterpart art exhibit featuring work by the film’s artists with a grant from F&M’s Center for the Sustained Engagement with Lancaster.
Nolt says the film is an opportunity to show not only the art he creates, but the fact that art is his livelihood.
“It’s actually what I do for a living, it’s not just something I do for fun and laughs,” says Nolt. “When the plumber comes to fix my pipes, it costs the same as anyone else, and I can’t sell a painting for a few hundred dollars, because I had fun doing it and I spent a month doing it.”
The “A Life Like This” exhibit, which also features the film on a loop, is open weekdays at the college’s Winter Visual Arts Center from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. An official screening and Q&A with Hollenbaugh will take place at 7 p.m. at the Winter Visual Arts Center on Friday, March 31.
“I wanted to do a really positive story, about how art can help someone overcome a disability, or at least make life a little bit easier,” Hollenbaugh said. “That’s what I was trying to find, and that’s what I found with these four artists. Stories are really powerful and I wanted to document them.
“A Life Like This” opens plaintively with artist Malcolm Corley taking the mic at F&M’s Nevin Chapel to sing “This Little Light of Mine” accompanied by his mother, pianist Maria Thompson Corley. The song’s lyrics serve as a fitting opening salvo to the featured works, as each artist has found a way to let their creativity shine through through one set of means or another.
Hollenbaugh has created short films about foreign artists in the past. He says he was first drawn to artists by the power of their work, then once he got to know them better, their stories.
“I wanted to focus specifically on artists with disabilities because I felt like they were really underrepresented in the art world in general, but also here in Lancaster.”
Hollenbaugh noted the work of Friendship Heart Gallery & Studios, which runs classes, shows art and provides other opportunities for people with disabilities. But he wants there to be greater representation of people with disabilities in Lancaster’s arts community.
“I wanted to bring awareness to some people in the area who create really cool art that for some reason can’t be exhibited in other galleries.”
From his studio atop a barn in Leola, Nolt says Hollenbaugh emailed him last fall with the idea for his film. They traded ideas, though the two first met in person on Hollenbaugh’s first day of filming.
Nolt is a fixture in the Lancaster County arts community, having previously served as president of the Lititz Art Association and has appeared at various First Friday events over the years. Since 2001, Nolt’s main income has come from Mouth & Foot Painting Artists, a global organization that pays artists for the reproduction rights to their works so they can be sold around the world.
“His paintings are incredibly detailed. It’s realism, not abstract at all,” says Hollenbaugh of Nolt’s art. “I was really interested in what I was seeing, and then when I met him, things got even better. He’s really quite self-reliant, and I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like not to have the use of my hands or my arms, much less to create something like that.
Nolt compares his work to that of a waiter who is paid a minimum balance and then receives “tips” at the end of the year based on the number of his paintings sold. Due to the global nature of the business, Nolt says his paintings tend to lean towards general subjects as opposed to more personal works.
“For example, if I was doing Amish art or Southwestern art, it would only be relevant to that area,” Nolt says. “The things I paint could be used anywhere, in any country. If I just made a certain type of art, it wouldn’t be anything in Europe or China. So what I try to concentrate is something more universal.
At the installation’s opening reception on Friday, March 10, Hollenbaugh, Nolt and the three other artists were on hand to welcome guests to “A Life Like This.” Some of the artists met for the first time and beamed showing their work to friends, family and new fans.
While other distribution plans for the documentary are currently muted, Nolt says he currently has no heightened expectations for how the film will be received, outside of additional recognition for its work as an artist.
“It’s a great way to make the audience realize that a person with a disability isn’t really inferior to another person, in the quality of the artwork or anything,” says Nolt. “There’s this opinion that if a disabled person does something for you, maybe it’s not of such high quality or maybe it’s not just anything. But it can be just as high quality.
A mud sale. A children’s clothing and toys consignment store. A cowboy concert.
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