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Toccoa native to teach art to others with disabilities

Grafton offers course for free Saturday in Helen

POSTED: July 10, 2014 1:00 a.m.

Stephanie Grafton, 47, has dealt with mental and physical handicaps since birth.

At age 8, she started experiencing seizures. At 25, she developed rheumatoid arthritis. In December 2012, she underwent treatment for cancer, including chemotherapy. However, none of Grafton’s health issues compared to the laughter and ridicule she received from her peers for being different.

“It was typical stuff that you have in school,” said Linda Carter, Grafton’s sister and fellow Toccoa resident. “She worked at Wendy’s for a little while, and people would make fun of her physical features or because she couldn’t talk.”

But Grafton’s life changed completely in 2008 when she attended a painting class in Toccoa as part of her mental and physical therapy. Grafton’s talent as an artist stunned her teacher and sister, who couldn’t believe she created the skillful paintings.

“I called her teacher and asked ‘Is Stephanie doing this? It’s quite impressive,’” Carter said. “The teacher said ‘Yes, Stephanie is doing it all by herself.’”

Grafton’s work, often depicting natural landscapes, has been exhibited in galleries around North Georgia in the years since she discovered her skill. She has sold 10 to 15 paintings in that time, each piece ranging from $80-$150 each. She now plans to share her skills and experience with other disabled individuals through art therapy.

Grafton will teach a course titled Introductory Painting for those with Disabilities from noon to 3 p.m. July 12 at the Helen Arts and Heritage Center. The three-hour free course is at 25 Chattahoochee Strasse in Helen.

The Helen Arts and Heritage Center selected Grafton as an instructor once they recognized the unique approach she will bring to other aspiring artists living with disabilities.

“A lot of time people with (disabilities) look at other people as authoritative and they don’t do as well, but Stephanie is on their level,” Carter said. “They might do better than someone telling them ‘do this, do that.’”

While the course may bring enjoyment to students, art therapy is also a proven way to enhance the well-being of individuals with mental and physical disabilities.

“Art is a wonderful occupation,” said Jennifer Fuqua, a Gainesville-based occupational therapist who uses art therapy with her patients. “Not only does it provide an outlet for personal expression, but it also enhances visual motor processing and improves several skills to enrich daily life.”

While sharing her work with the public is gratifying, the therapeutic nature of Grafton’s artwork is invaluable.

“When Stephanie is painting, there is no pain,” Carter said. “It takes her focus away from pain and she’s focused on doing something and creating something.”

For more information, contact 706-878-3933 or visit helenarts.org.


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