Ohio studios gives disabled artists space to create

MARYSVILLE, Ohio (AP) — With a steel gaze, Ron Marshall examines the canvas in front of him and carefully leans forward.

Gripping the handle of a long paintbrush in his teeth, he alternately clenches and relaxes his jaws as the bristles flutter up and down, casting trails of orange on his work.

Artists Disabled

In this May 23, 2017, photo, Ron Marshall paints at Creative Foundations in Marysville, Ohio. The studio is one of four in central Ohio employing people with developmental disabilities. (Dean Narciso/The Columbus Dispatch via AP)

Marshall, 46, will repeat this motion much of the day, pausing only to reload his brush, change a color or cast a good-natured barb at a fellow artist at the Creative Foundations studio.

The studio, at 104 S. Main St., is one of four in central Ohio employing people with developmental disabilities. Housed in storefronts, the sites feature large picture windows that make the artists, social workers and volunteers readily visible, their work on display and for sale.

Some of the 20 or so others inside the Marysville site have other jobs or goals of working their way into the surrounding community.

But Marshall feels most at home there.

He has used a wheelchair since he was 18, after shooting himself in the chest on Jan. 8, 1990, near his home in Byhalia, about 10 miles north of Marysville.

Lodged near his spine, the bullet was too precariously positioned to remove; he is unable to use his legs or grip his hands and has limited use of his arms.

His mind, though, remains free of limitations, and the canvas and easel serve as a portal to explore anything Marshall can imagine.

"I transfer all my problems into that painting," he said. "I don't think about nothing but painting that picture."

Superman is a favorite subject, as are animals and landscapes.

"He loves working," said Katie Hofacker, the studio's resident artist. "He likes trying anything."

Marshall's stamina and focus, she said, inspires her and others at the facility.

"He'll sit for hours to paint, the whole day. He'll skip lunch to paint."

The work is also therapeutic, Hofacker said.

"He's just in a great mood when he's working. You know how you hear about creative people getting in that zone? Well, he gets there."

Without tape placed around the paintbrush handle that Marshall uses, Hofacker said, "after a week of using the same brush he'll bite right through."

Marshall said his work ethic is inspired by the athletes he follows, including professional wrestlers: "I believe in putting 110 percent into something if you're going to do it."

He recalls little about the shooting 27 years ago, he said, and police reports have since been destroyed.

When pressed, though, he offers two thoughts: "All I know is that I was in a coma for a long time. I made some very bad choices."

Marshall lived with his mother and stepfather until his mother died in 2013. He spent a year in a nursing home before the Union County Board of Developmental Disabilities stepped in to find him nearby housing — and the studio.

He has only a few relatives and little contact with them, preferring the energy of his paints.

"I think Ron's is a great story," said Kara Brown, superintendent of the disabilities board. "He is able to live in a home with two others and produce artwork like this. He is providing joy and opportunity to others.

"He found something he likes. It's quality of life."

Marshall would like to use his story to help others: "I imagine myself being a speaker and telling people about my trouble and what not to do."

Mistakes, he said, are another reason that he absorbs himself in painting.

"You can't mess up art," he tells a woman seated nearby who has become frustrated at her project.

"Sometimes a mistake can be something beautiful."