“I did art when I was a kid and I do still,” said David Skinner. “I like to draw flowers and gardens and animals, too, like giraffes and horses.”

For years, David lived on his own with the help of outreach services from MHA. As he got older and required a higher level of care, he moved into an MHA group home, where he has many opportunities to stay involved in the community.

Currently, David is enrolled in an art class at Holyoke Community College, offered through Holyoke Creative Arts Center. The class is led by instructor Anne Mueller, BFA, a classically trained studio artist. “The lady who teaches is a good artist,” David said. “She is nice and helps us. I meet new people. There are some good artists.”

“David has been an artist for a long time and this class is giving him a chance to learn some new techniques and approaches,” said Luishka Carcorze Mendez, Program Supervisor in MHA’s Division of Developmental Disabilities. “We went together to buy new art supplies for the class and he’s excited to use them.”

Artistically speaking, David says he is more of an impressionist than a realist. “I use garden books for ideas, and make it close to the picture but in my own way,” he explained. “I like colors, like reds and browns, and I mix colors and make new colors, and it comes out good. I’m going to add butterflies and turtles to break up the scenery a bit. I like painting canvas. The paint stays on better.”

According to Luishka, group home residents love to display their artwork. “It’s not like going to the store and buying someone else’s art,” she explained. “It’s our residents’ art, they created it, and they’re proud of it. David has a couple paintings there already and he’s looking forward to adding some more.”

“At the group home we have a wall which is our art gallery where we show the things people do in their art,” David said. “I can paint different flowers and I could put pictures together for an art exhibit.”

David pointed out some of the ways that MHA is helping him. “Luishka helps me handle my own money better, like when I’m getting my art supplies. I got some new acrylic paints, new brushes, and a paint pallet to mix colors. Staff takes me to the class and stays with me in case I need help or something. Then after, we go back home.”

As an MHA participant, David has many opportunities to enjoy his love of animals, flowers and the outdoors. For several years he was a volunteer at Lupa Zoo in Ludlow. He’s gone wildlife spotting at Quabbin Reservation, bird watching at the Audubon Reserve in Princeton, and moose tracking at Rutland State Park. He’s been to art museums in Springfield’s Quadrangle. On a visit to Northampton he toured the greenhouse at Smith College. When the weather isn’t good for the outdoors, David enjoys mall walking with staff and friends.

“I think David’s work is impressive,” said Luishka. “When he’s painting, he’s in his zone and gives it his full attention. He can be a grumpy man—he’ll tell you that himself—but when he’s painting he’s a happy man. If you put your all into something, the outcome is going to show it.”

“I put my all into my art,” David said confidently. “I try to do that. Painting makes me feel better, it makes me happy. When I finish the class, I’m getting some wall hangers to put my paintings on the wall to make an art exhibit. I like making other people happy with my art.”