Show features 55 artists

Published 4:33 am Wednesday, April 5, 2006

By By ANDY HAMILTON / Niles Daily Star
NILES - Convincing Bill Pettine, Jr. to take up art class required a bit of encouragement. Until he met Loretta Kaser, Pettine had never made an attempt at painting.
Tuesday morning, the former Mishawaka and current Granger, Ind. resident was preparing for an opening day art reception in Niles.
Pettine is one of 55 artists whose drawings, paintings and sketches are on display at Fisher Art Gallery, 306 E. Main St. in downtown Niles.
All of the exhibitors are students of the Northern Indiana Institute for Artists with Disabilities, Inc., which each week teaches art classes to residents living in five health care facilities in the South Bend and Mishawaka, Ind. area.
Kaser said she began teaching the classes after earning a bachelors degree in art from Bethel College in 1998. Also helping her along the way has been her husband Bob, who Kaser said also has an art background.
Eventually, Kaser's son Christopher Lawson, who is Bob's stepson, caught the creative bug and began drawing his own pictures. Lawson, who is 33 and has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and mild mental retardation, has always liked to draw, Kaser said.
Kaser said the classes are often times an outlet for people who have a difficult time communicating due to their disabilities. To teach the classes, Kaser said she transports all the necessary art supplies to the health care facilities each week. Because it's hard to carry around the larger supplies such as easels, Kaser said many of the students work with pencil, pen, marker and colored pencil.
Pettine said markers were his original tool of choice, but he soon switched to painting abstracts.
Maintaining a good stock of supplies has never been much of a problem for Kaser until the past year, when she said the number of students in her classes nearly tripled.
The institute, which became a not-for-profit organization in 2003, not only provides the artists with tools, it also mattes and frames the work for exhibits at places like Barnes and Noble and Fisher Gallery.
When an original piece is sold, all the profits go directly to the artist. If a copy, or reprint, is purchased at a show, Kaser said part of the money goes to the artist and whatever remains is put into the supplies fund for the institute.
Pettine believes in it too.
The Northern Indiana Institute for Artists with Disabilities, Inc. exhibit at Fisher Gallery in Niles will hold its opening reception on Saturday, April 8 from 4 to 7 p.m.
Kaser also said a fundraiser for the institute will be coming some time in June.