Paint A Miracle celebrates 20 years of creative expression

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published May 11, 2022

 Paint A Miracle artist Penny Phelan works on her craft.

Paint A Miracle artist Penny Phelan works on her craft.

Photo provided by Paint A Miracle

 The late Dr. Dale Propson founded Paint A Miracle.

The late Dr. Dale Propson founded Paint A Miracle.

Photo provided by Paint A Miracle

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ROCHESTER — Paint A Miracle has been teaching art to children and adults with disabilities and other challenges for 20 years, transforming their lives in unimaginable ways.

Executive Director Shelly Propson Tyshka has seen first-hand the effect the program can have on someone’s life.

The organization’s origins date back to 1985, when Tyshka’s father, Dr. Dale Propson, was hit by a drunken driver and suffered a massive brain injury that took away most of his eyesight and put an end to his career as a pediatric dentist.

“He was never going to be able to go back to work, and hobbies were difficult because of the cognitive deficits and his eyesight limitations, so he was pretty depressed at that point,” Propson Tyshka said.

Then one day, one of his aides took him to an art studio in Lake Orion. Initially, he wouldn’t get out of the car, telling the art studio’s owner, Helen Cuniff, that he couldn’t paint because he couldn’t see.

But his life was forever changed when Cuniff explained that an artist doesn’t need to use their eyes to paint because the image “goes from your brain to your heart to your hand.”

“He started painting and he became part of this little community of artists there,” Propson Tyshka said. “My mom started noticing that he would come home whistling, his ability to concentrate improved, his ability to read improved, and miraculously, his eyesight improved somehow. He went from legally blind to sight impaired. He started exhibiting and selling his work out there, and it was life-changing for my dad.”

Drawing on his own experience, Propson suggested the family open Paint A Miracle art studio, so others with disabilities could benefit from creating art as he had.

Paint A Miracle offered its first class to four people in 2002.

Today, nearly 500 artists take classes at the studio each year  — which Propson Tyshka says serves as a place of independence, artistic freedom and creative inspiration for many in the community.

Because most Paint A Miracle artists cannot maintain gainful employment due to the nature or severity of their disability, Propson Tyshka said Paint A Miracle provides them with meaningful work, a sense of community, and scholarships for those artists who cannot afford to pay for classes. Artists are also able to exhibit and sell their work at the studio.

“We’ve had people come through our studio over the years and say it’s really given them their life back and given them a sense of meaning and purpose. Some of our artists have been with us since the beginning,” she explained. “We have people who have come and really redefined themselves — like my dad. They had an accident or a stroke or something and lost their profession, and now, they’ve found meaning and purpose again, through their art.”

Maureen Guy has been taking her daughter Carly — who has a rare syndrome — to classes at Paint A Miracle for over 15 years.

These days, Carly attends class twice a week.

“It has been very transformative for Carly,” said Guy. “She’s gone far beyond anything we could have imagined. … It’s a special place.”

Guy encourages others to give Paint A Miracle a try.

“Everybody is an artist. It’s just a question of where your personality shines through,” she said. “You benefit in so many ways that go far beyond what’s on a piece of paper. It’s the patience, and it’s the understanding that good things take time, and the managing of the projects from start to finish, and it’s the camaraderie with other people in the room — it’s so many things.”

The organization is gearing up for its largest fundraiser of the year, the spring luncheon May 23 at the Royal Park Hotel. The event features a gallery stroll that allows guests to see and purchase thousands of pieces of art created by Paint A Miracle students via a silent auction, as well as a raffle and lunch. The annual Images of Inspiration award will be given to Frank Rewold and his team. Doors will open at 10:30 a.m. at the Royal Park for shopping, and lunch will be served at noon.

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the pieces goes back to the artist. Proceeds from ticket sales, the silent auction and the remainder of purchase price of the artwork go to Paint A Miracle.

Paint A Miracle — 400 Water St., Suite LL4, in Rochester — is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) public charity, and all donations are tax deductible. Tickets, which cost $75, can be purchased by calling Paint A Miracle at (248) 652-2702 or clicking on the events tab at www.paintamiracle.org.

To make a monetary donation or purchase art from the online store, visit paintamiracle.org.

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