Beverly Hills artist wins in Legacy Trust Award competition

By: Robin Ruehlen | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published June 19, 2013

BEVERLY HILLS — Michele Martin’s basement and garage are now overflowing with her daughter Elizabeth’s artwork — ceramics, pottery, mosaics, quilts and papermaking. But rather than see the accumulated projects as a problem, Michele couldn’t be more proud.

Elizabeth, 29, was recently named one of four Legacy Trust Award winners in Michigan — a competition for adult artists with disabilities — and will go on to have her artwork shown at ArtPrize 2013 in Grand Rapids this September.

Diagnosed at birth with a rare genetic disability that impacts language, as well as fine and gross motor skills, Elizabeth’s doctors told her mother that she would never walk or talk.

“She presented with something like muscular dystrophy, and her original diagnosis was failure to thrive,” Michele said, noting that Elizabeth’s condition is so rare that it was not given a name.

With years of occupational, speech and physical therapy, Elizabeth was able to attend regular classes in the Birmingham Public Schools district with the help of a paraprofessional, and she graduated from Seaholm High School in 2003. In addition to high school art classes, she also began attending community classes taught by artist mentors with various disabilities. This experience in turn led to Elizabeth’s participation in programs at The Art Experience, as well as the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Association.

Elizabeth’s ceramic creation, titled “Fish out of Water,” was among those of 25 other artists from around the state participating in the fourth annual LTAC competition in May. More than 1,000 votes were cast at both the Grand Rapids Art Museum and on Facebook for the winners.

“I like doing fish because it reminds me of Up North and water,” she said.

Her ceramic fish, hearts and stars became so popular that she had to start making molds of them in order to keep producing the desired result.

“Sometimes the glaze fires differently, too, and you don’t always know how it will turn out,” she said.

In addition to attending the ceramics program at Oakland Community College in Royal Oak, Elizabeth has created her own business, Elegant Designs by Elizabeth. Her work is also featured at local consignment shops, art fairs and on her website.

“The art students at OCC are of all ages and very nice. I get inspiration from many of them,” she said. 

When she is not creating, Elizabeth enjoys spending time in the northern Michigan town of Leland, horseback riding, dancing, playing the guitar and piano, quilting, and sewing clothes for her nieces.

In addition to participating in the Leland Artist’s Market and the Maker Faire Detroit at The Henry Ford this July, Elizabeth hopes to put her $500 reward toward a plane ticket to visit her cousin in Seattle.

“There are not many quiet moments in Elizabeth’s life,” Michele said.

“This has been her first year selling her art, and she also has the goal of doing more public speaking.”

So far, Elizabeth has traveled to Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Orlando to speak about her life and her disability. She also serves on the interview and finance committees of Community Living Services of Oakland County.

The youngest of four siblings, Elizabeth has never been shy about wanting to try the sports and activities that her brothers and sister participated in.

“She never gives up. She has always seen others doing things, whether it is ice skating or T-ball, and she wants to do it. She’s a very social person, and she just perseveres,” Michele said.

“My learning process is finding very nice people who are willing to let her try things.”

CEO and President of Legacy Trust Bill Walker said in a statement that he is “beyond thrilled” with the response to the 2013 LTAC competition.

“Not only did we expand our outreach to include artists from across the state, we were able to share their incredible work internationally,” he said.

“The caliber of work was particularly amazing this year, and we look forward to sharing … during ArtPrize 2013.”

For more information about Elizabeth Martin or to view or purchase her artwork, visit or email Michele Martin at