Son with Down syndrome inspires Ala. artist

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FLORENCE, Ala. (AP) — Shoals artist Martha Beadle said she thinks of her abilities and style as a gift.

Beadle's son Sam has Down syndrome. And when he finished high school at the age of 21 there was nothing for him except the sheltered workshop.

He had a complete shutdown, Beadle said.

"He went through a very aggressive period," Beadle said. "So I was pretty much shut down here at home. I think my art came from that."

Beadle had always done needlepoint as a hobbyist, but she points to that time period in 2000 as the start of her career as an artist.

In her studio, located in the basement of her Florence home, she still has the first piece she ever made, which was a Christmas gift for her husband.

It just says "Come on barge, dadgummit little joe, little joe."

"My son and my husband go down to the river bottom and watch for the barges," Beadle said. "That's what he would always say and just laugh."

From there Beadle has cultivated a distinctive style of art. Typically there is a quote stitched onto the background with a central figure — Beadle likes making people and animals — cut from various pieces of fabric and decorated with buttons and pieces of jewelry, pins or other knickknacks.

Having coped with the transition from life as a high school student, Sam, now 36, still lives with Beadle and her husband, and he enjoys going to art festivals and meeting different artists and their families Beadle said.

In her youth, Beadle went to school to be a kindergarten teacher, but spent most of her life raising her three children.

"My daughter had gone to North Carolina for school and, like I said, it was just Sam here," she said. "We were here for three to six months and didn't go anywhere really."

Mary Nicely, program director at the Kennedy-Douglass Center for the Arts in Florence, said Beadle's work is known as fiber art.

"She makes use of common materials to make something so clever and so beautiful," Nicely said. "And one thing that makes her pieces so special are the wonderful quotes that she finds."

Most of her pieces have quotes ranging from Shakespeare, Bob Dylan, Tallulah Bankhead, the Bible, Hank Williams and Amy Winehouse.

Stephanie Qualls, curator of education with the Tennessee Valley Museum of Art in Tuscumbia, said Beadle isn't just a popular local artist, but a well-known and well-collected artist throughout the Southeast.

"Martha has the unique ability to put things together that seemingly have nothing in common and turn them into a wonderful piece of art," she said.

Currently, Beadle's work is being shown at both the Tennessee Valley Museum of Art's Artworks exhibit and at the Kennedy-Douglass Center for the Arts' Mostly Blues exhibit.

Beadle said she has been invited to do shows that are invite only, and festivals such as Kentuck in Northport. She's now grandfathered into that festival.

"I think I now have a piece in every state," she said. "It's amazing how in 14 years they've gone. I have a piece in South Africa, one in Germany."

Beadle said each of her pieces starts with the quote; from there she develops the piece. Even in her spare time, Beadle said she's always creating.

The artist has an old, round, red suitcase she brings with her when traveling or going on vacation.

"I have it packed with stuff, so if I have time I'll pull it out and do a little work," she said.

Beadle said a typical piece will take her about a week and a half or maybe two weeks.

"I always keep something going," she said. "As soon as I finish this piece, I'll cut out another one. It's fun, it's just entertaining myself."

Almost all of her work is sold, she said, and a lot of it is commissioned work with people requesting certain quotes.

"People will say 'I have something I want you to do with a favorite song or a scripture verse,'" she said.

Beadle said she mostly just freehand cuts her pieces, but sometimes she does draw a pattern before cutting the fabric.

Most of her the material she uses is donated to her. People will leave boxes of old fabrics or buttons for her to use. She said she came home one day to see a gigantic pair of jeans draped across her front door.

Which is good, she said, because she likes to use denim a lot in her work.

"I'll just go out and there will be a bag of old jewelry or a bag of old buttons," she said. "I guess they think, 'oh my, that looks like a mess.'"

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Information from: TimesDaily, http://www.timesdaily.com/

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