By the time the cycle of life had closed in on his daughter, Brad Curtsinger of Palm Bay had learned a thing or two.
His first child, a girl named Morgan, was born with a host of medical ailments so disjointed and misunderstood by medical professionals, and so unique to her, that her doctors called it “Morgan’s Disease,” he said. She was just shy of her 24th birthday when she passed in 2010.
Developmentally restricted. Physically confined. Rationally unavailable.
Completely reliant on Brad for food, care, exercise, mobility, and transportation. Imagine a 3-month-old baby in an adult body that cannot ask for help.
Brad was 21 years old, living in Kentucky and just about out of art school when Morgan came. A few years later, a healthy boy would arrive, Aaron.
There is no manual to prepare you for parenting a child like Morgan. She was non-verbal, non-ambulatory and incontinent. Morgan became the teacher and Brad and his wife, Amy Fernandez, trained as students learning her cues, moods, sounds and even dirty looks. She loved Disney theme parks and collected character pins which she displayed on her lanyards and wheelchair seatbelts.
Totally devoted to her every need, they performed daily physical and occupational therapy so her muscles would not atrophy. Morgan was fed through a G-tube and required constant care in every aspect of life. Brad describes the care – something he would not trade for anything in the world – as all-encompassing: “One of us was always home with her, 24/7.”
Art was his passion, but the responsibilities of raising children, one with mounting medical needs, forced a shift from his studies to a job at Ford Motor Company assembling cars.
He never lost his love of art and managed to find sacred moments to nurture his love of ceramics.
“I’d come home from working a night shift and spend one hour each day working with clay,” he said.
It was a lifeline, a way to center his soul before the chores and responsibilities of caring for two young children rose up with the sun each day. He was determined to finish his art degree and eventually did so while raising his family and working at Ford.
After 15 years in the auto industry, Brad left to spend more time with his children and his art. His experience dealing with therapists, teachers and Morgan provided him with unique insight that would start a new chapter in his life. Brad began working with adults with special abilities. He became the Program Coordinator for an art-centered adult day program.
Adaptive Techniques Born of Necessity
Brad managed an art gallery dedicated to the work of disabled adults and has over 25 years’ experience working with therapists in developing adaptive art projects, texture boards and quiet rooms. His work with physical and occupational therapists helped to fine tune art processes – think finger movements, shaping clay on a wheel, using fine motor skills to grip a paintbrush – as a way to satisfy therapy goals.
“This population [of young adults] is so creative, they have wonderful ideas and are very expressive. The problem for them, often, is that so many decisions are made for them every day – out of necessity – that they don’t often get the chance to express themselves in the physical world.”
Helping to Nourish and Create
Developing adaptive techniques to create art became a passion for Brad and allowed him to become a translator of sorts for his students – he’d explain a project about a specific medium, say clay, or yarn, or canvas, then ask for input on how they wanted to proceed.
“I wanted them to tell me what they wanted to create, rather than the other way around,” he said. Then he’d work with the student to make it happen, developing the processes, sourcing any additional materials and offering guidance, as well as formal instruction on the project.
Every student received customized instruction.
The results have been spectacular, but not just in the physical sense of creating art. “My students feel so proud about making art – about making decisions – about being allowed to choose. I want to offer a safe space for them to do this, to feel this sort of freedom,” he said.
Stray Dog Pottery
Throughout the years, Brad has exhibited his ceramic art at juried and invitational art shows, to critical acclaim. He has been awarded multiple ribbons in the Fine Arts Ceramics division of the Kentucky State Fair, including several Blue Ribbon First Premium awards as well as the distinguished Purchase Award. In 2009, Brad was part of the Maker’s Mark 2009 “Mark of Great Art,” a juried exhibit and his works from that show are now on permanent exhibit in England.
He has been a regular exhibitor in juried art shows that include the Cherokee Triangle Art Fair, the Butchertown Art Fair in Louisville, Art in Speed Park and Art on the Parish Green in Indiana. He is a juried member of the Kentucky Museum of Arts and Crafts.
Additionally, he has instructed students of all abilities locally as an instructor of Ceramics and as glaze technician at the Foosaner Art Museum, and as art instructor at the Promise in Brevard Creative Arts Center.
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Shawna Lucas (formerly Kelsch) has lived and worked in Brevard county for the past 20 years, serving in a variety of jobs and community service roles. She’s a former food and news reporter for Florida today, and was owner/operator of a marketing company that assisted clients and partners such as the Florida Healthcare Coalition, Blue Cross & Blue Shield Foundation for Florida, The Brevard Health Alliance, and Florida Tech to identify and solve pressing community health issues. She has she has dual bachelors degrees in Journalism and Sociology from the University of Miami, and was an inaugural fellow at the Freedom Forum Diversity Institute at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN.