Elias Shumway – I want our house to smell like art

Maryan watching Elias paint in Qatar

“I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say in any other way–things I had no words for,” Georgia O’Keeffe

By Maryan Myres Shumway

One of the greatest things about moving to Qatar as expats was that my son’s art teacher took an interest in his piqued interest in art. Gabriel Deerman, his 7th grade teacher, saw a new kid with autism at the school who needed to better understand the routines of the classroom. Elias was calling out random answers, looking a little bewildered and confused with all the new kids and demands encircling around him. All of a sudden he was in a new school, with no aide, and hearing several different languages and accents. Mr. Deerman approached me, and asked if he could work with Elias after school for an hour a week–on a one-on-one level. The results of that tutelage after one and a half years have been extraordinary. I would even say transforming.

Elias' art exhibition at museum
Elias’s art exhibition at Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha

Every child needs to know and understand how to channel their gifts. Yet often times they need a person to help excavate those talents–to nurture and coax them out. When you have a child with special needs, there is a constant ache/hope that someone will understand, talk, and invite them into their world. Gabriel has helped build a bridge for Elias, showing him how to walk across a river where previously there were more gaps and divides. Elias now thinks of himself as an artist, a creator, who is not timid to try new mediums or launch in other directions. As he told me at home a few months ago, “I want our house to always smell like art.”

Elias’s interest in art is not necessarily sketching or drawing, the more traditional way, but it is experimenting, improvising with mediums to make surprisingly beautiful creations. As I view his artwork, I am learning to see through another lens. His art voyage has given me a new appreciation for abstract art, to express oneself without necessarily trying to produce images. Yet other likenesses and representations are conveyed in unanticipated ways. Unpredicted patterns, textures, colors, and shapes emerge on his canvases. Elias’s artwork reminds me of some kinds of jazz, where music becomes unmetered, but there is a spontaneous balance that magically appears. You can feel the pulse of another place that is familiar, but simultaneously different.

I have gone to art museums all over the world, feeling moved by famous artists’ expressions, but I have never been as fond of modern and abstract art. I usually bypassed those rooms–rushing to other areas where I felt more connected–that I understood. Elias has taught me to look a little deeper, and see what the abstract is trying to express. What is the story that is unraveling in the painting, even though there are no concrete images?

Just as having a child with special needs has forced me to think in diverse ways, I now see art deeper, more broadly. While listening to jazz, I now enjoy hearing the thrill of experimenting and improvisation. I do not solely live by prescribed scripts anymore; I delight in the spontaneous and extemporaneous. To watch Elias create has given me a wider, more expansive view of what beauty really means and is defined by. He has found a gift. And I have discovered a new way to perceive the world, people, and my son.

When he says, “I want our house to smell like art,” I interpret that as meaning: he wants our home to be a place where we are always creating, learning, exploring in new ways. Just as Georgia O”Keeffe said, “I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say in any other way–things I had no words for.” Hopefully, we can help steer our son to show us what he is trying to say about the world he sees–the deep things in his heart that he does not have the words to say. That is the best kind of creation.

If you want to know more about Gabriel Deerman, he and his wife, Ashley, are starting a new artistic adventure in Tamworth, Canada (between Toronto and Montreal) called Salmon River Studios. They are moving back to Canada to begin some creative and educational opportunities, combining two barns for studios and classrooms in a beautiful 50+ acres setting. Gabriel wants to continue to help children with disabilities discover new gifts (and for their parents to learn to see in new ways).

This is a repost from Maryan Shumway’s blog. You can read more about Elias and his art here:
Introducing our Picasso
Our Picasso’s Art Exhibition – About Elias art at the Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha


Maryan Myres Shumway, a writer and musician, is an expat living in the Middle East. She has six children, the youngest, Elias, has autism. She plays the cello in the Doha Community orchestra, and is learning to be an artist with her son.You can see more of her thoughts and adventures at trekingonward.blogspot.com

Elias has artwork hanging in the UAE, America, Qatar, and even France!


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