Starlight artists help to create new Buddy Bench

Starlight artists help to create new Buddy Bench

Art is a medium that erases barriers. “There is not a division anymore,” said Tracy Aubihl, community connections manager for Starlight Enterprises of New Philadelphia. Starlight is a service provider for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Aubihl said she is pleased others now think of Starlight when they need an artist. Last summer Starlight received a call from the Tuscarawas County Fair Board to create murals for the fine arts building at the fairgrounds.

In their latest project some of the artists from Starlight completed painting a Buddy Bench, their third collaborative project with area artist Jon Stucky.

“The art projects get us involved in connecting with other organizations, and it creates awareness of people with disabilities,” Aubihl said. “With us doing these projects in the community, friendships have formed.”

It has definitely been the case with Stucky. Before their first joint art project, a mural in Ashwood Lane Northwest in New Philadelphia, a group of Starlight artists visited his studio at Dover. Stucky then visited Starlight’s Art on High studio and shop at New Philadelphia to see what projects the group was working on.

“I went over and visited the art house and was amazed,” Stucky said.

Originally Stucky planned to have the artists paint on only one of the angels in the mural project on Ashwood Lane. “They did great and ended up painting on all three,” he said. “Once they get in their comfort zone, they just do it.”

Stucky can even talk about the artists’ interests. “Some come every chance they get. In the past couple of years, they figured out Rick [Toole] was an artist, and now that is all he wants to do.”

Stucky’s style is more abstract and free, something that allows the Starlight artists more creativity. “There are not a lot of guidelines,” he said.

The artists’ association with Stucky has allowed them to learn more about art techniques and mediums.

Each Starlight artist has his/her own favorite ideas about art. Rodney Fuller enjoys everything about art and is looking forward to learning to create with paint markers. His favorite subject is painting mermaids.

Rick Toole likes learning new art techniques and enjoys the recognition he receives in the media. Stacy Urban enjoys painting flowers and having her picture taken with her work.

Christy Gardner enjoys painting pictures of pets from photographs and did several last year for clients who gave them as Christmas presents. Andrei Weaver has been doing art his whole life and is happy to be able to continue doing art with Starlight. He enjoys creating seasonal art pieces.

Kelly McMillen and Carrie Herbert assist the artists at Starlight, and they have been impressed, especially with the artists’ willingness to try new art projects without reservation.

“I’m amazed at how they are able to come in with a fresh eye every day, and they have new ideas of what they want to do,” Herbert said. “They are always excited to come in. Even if they are having a bad day, their attitude changes when they pick up a paintbrush.”

Artwork from Starlight artists is available at Starlight Art on High at 236 E. High Ave. in New Philadelphia, which is open Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Other times are available by calling 330-339-2020.

The Buddy Bench project began in spring 2018 with a goal to provide each elementary school in Tuscarawas County a Buddy Bench to end loneliness and foster kindness and new friendships. Students who are without something to do at recess sit on the bench, which signals other students to come sit on the bench too and befriend them.

According to Buddy Bench project organizer Mary Ann Lauber, each bench costs $180 to create, and sponsors have now been found to cover the cost of the 25 benches needed.

As the benches are completed, Andrew Wilsterman of The Good Neighbor Project holds an assembly at the elementary schools where he presents the bench and shares the concept to students.

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