‘A Celebration of a Life Lived Creatively’
Artist Lois Curtis spent years of her life as a patient going in and out of institutions for developmental disabilities and mental illnesses.
After fighting for her freedom to live in a community among her peers, Curtis is now free to express herself through whimsical and colorful art pieces, which will be decorating the walls of the Georgia College Museum Sept. 20 – Dec. 1 in the exhibit “WORKS by Lois Curtis: A Celebration of a Life Lived Creatively.”
The exhibit is being sponsored by the Institute on Human Development and Disability (IHDD) and not only showcases the works of Curtis, but also highlights the struggle that Curtis faced to gain her freedom and live outside the walls of an institution.
Shannon Morris, a curator at the Georgia College Museum, is enthusiastic about having Curtis’ work featured at there.
“Gillian Grable has been invaluable in her attention to making sure that this happened for Lois, and the IHDD and their sponsorship of it has been really marvelous,” Morris said. “It’s a nice connection for us at Georgia College.”
Morris explained how this exhibit is different from what is normally featured at the museum. Curtis’ colorful style is a different, but welcoming, change for the museum.
“This is our first time to sort of step out of the traditional art world, so we’re very excited about it,” Morris said.
Juliana Fritts, a freshman pre-nursing major, was curious when she heard about the exhibit. As she walked through the gallery, she was impressed by the work.
“I like it,” Fritts said. “I like looking at the different media that she uses, the expressions of the people and how she draws the faces.”
Gillian Grable, Community Outreach Coordinator at UGA Institute on Human Development and Disability, shares Fritts’ enthusiasm about seeing Curtis’ art. Grable met Curtis, her mother and sister while working with an outreach organization for people with disabilities. Since then, Grable has formed a close relationship with Curtis and is thrilled with Curtis’ success.
“It’s really wonderful to see Lois’ artwork in such a gorgeous and well-known university as Georgia College,” Grable said. “The gallery’s just beautiful. Shannon’s done an incredible job with hanging the artwork.”
According to Grable, Curtis has shown artistic talent since a young age.
“Lois has been drawing very stylized paintings and drawings in the manner in which you see some of her artwork since she was 11 years old,” Grable said. “It’s what I would call Picasso-like with single-line drawings and beautiful colors.”
Project Director of the Mental Health and Disability Rights Project of Atlanta Legal Aid Society Sue Jamieson, who spoke about Curtis and her work at the exhibit, explained that one of Curtis’ series consists of pictures which Curtis made to portray herself as a child because no one took pictures of her when she was young.
“I was trying along with other people including Sue at one point to help Lois receive the kind of support that she needed to live in the community,” Grable said.
Jamieson ended up doing legal work to help Curtis and another woman who was in a similar situation, Elaine Wilson, to obtain the right to live freely in their community rather than being confined to an institution.
“Lois and Elaine never faltered, that was the amazing thing,” Jamieson said. “They went through this litigation for five years … We were like a little grain of sand on the beach, but we began to realize that we were a small part of a really big, bad problem in this country.”
After a long legal fight, Curtis and Wilson are now free to live among their peers, outside of institution walls. Lois is living her dreams and establishing herself as an artist, while simultaneously helping spread the word about the need to get people out of unnecessary institutionalization.
“You might say that getting out of an institution is like going into a bright painting,” Jamieson said. “Lois is like a living metaphor.”