Retired Genesee County educator continues teaching art as therapy

Sharlene Howe found the therapeutic effects of art with her deaf and cognitively impaired daughter
Published: Jan. 1, 2021 at 12:17 PM EST
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SWARTZ CREEK, Mich. (WJRT) - After the difficult year of 2020, art therapy sounds like a perfect way to help ease some of the tension.

A Swartz Creek educator has adapted throughout the pandemic with the driving force of spreading love and acceptance through art.

Last year brought an evolution of virtual education with Zoom meetings, parties and even art classes now the norm. Retired educator Sharlene Howe conducts art classes via Zoom from her Swartz Creek gallery with as few as two people.

She sends the supplies to students ahead of class time and she tailors classes to fit whatever the needs are of the students.

“There’s no real restrictions,” she said. “Most of the students know me from having worked with them through the years.”

One of the groups she loves teaching most is individuals who have special needs.

“That is the thing about art. Art is just an expression, it’s a form of expression,” Howe said. “This can work with persons who have cognitive disabilities as far as being able to speak, communication deficits, because they can use art to say this is how I feel.”

What would a painting about 2020 look like? Frustration, sickness, sadness? Howe knows what it’s like to need an outlet like art. It’s how she began doing this work in the first place.

“My oldest daughter is cognitively impaired and deaf. When she was growing up, they don’t come with a handbook. That’s the understatement of the year,” Howe said. “When you have a special needs individual or child you can have all kinds of levels that you see from being the sweetest thing on Earth to all of a sudden they’re emotionally distraught because they are frustrated and can’t communicate effectively.”

Deena, now 35, excelled in art class at school, which eventually led Sharlene to embrace and nurture her natural love for art as a way to help her daughter. She took some classes, spent nearly 20 years as a paraeducator, helped with the yearly arts festival at school and sold commissioned artwork.

Simultaneously, she ran her art business teaching classes here.

“Part of my big thing is to extend therapeutic art,” Howe said. “Art is therapy to people. Give them a safe place to come in -- no judgment.”

The challenges from 2020 showed a lot of people what they’re made of, just as she learned decades ago.

“And a parent came and said, you know what, things do get better,” Howe said. “He was so right. I took that and held on to that.”

Check out Howe’s Art Supplies on Facebook to sign up for a class.

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