Sophie’s Gallery showcases unique gifts from developmentally disabled artist while preparing for a new year of exhibits

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Sophie’s Gallery is a special place in El Cajon. The art shop features unique creative works from the hands of developmentally disabled adult artists, offering for sale all kinds of pieces, from those on the large scale, such as decorated chairs, to the small, including handmade jewelry and greeting cards. Prices for the artworks run from $2.50 for the cards to $300 for a large painting.

Sophie’s Gallery is a special place in El Cajon. The art shop features unique creative works from the hands of developmentally disabled adult artists, offering for sale all kinds of pieces, from those on the large scale, such as decorated chairs, to the small, including handmade jewelry and greeting cards. Prices for the artworks run from $2.50 for the cards to $300 for a large painting.

The ongoing holiday sales exhibit, which opened on Small Business Saturday, Nov. 28, is entitled “Wings & Snow: A Flurry of Angels.” The pieces are interpretations of angel figures crafted from repurposed wood. The show continues through the end of the year. Other Christmas-themed artworks currently for sale as gifts include a variety of glass soap dishes.

The gallery is set to begin its 16th year in the Rea Arts District, in a storefront that was the former office space of the El Cajon Chamber of Commerce. Grants and donations allowed purchase of the building, which made expansion of the art program possible. Instructors lead art classes twice daily, Monday through Friday. Arts in the program include painting, mosaics and fused glass, textile weaving, and jewelry making.

The artists are drawn from the approximately 410 students at the St. Madeleine Sophie’s Center campus. About 300 of them have chosen to participate in the art program. They range in age from 22 to 80, earning money from a portion of the selling price of their artworks in the gallery. The remaining portion of the sales income goes toward supplies and overhead to keep the gallery in operation.

Wendy Morris is administrator of Sophie’s Gallery, a role she’s held since 1994. She described her greatest satisfaction from her job, saying, “I enjoy the relationship with students, helping them learn to express themselves, learn new skills, meet and greet new people in their lives, and identify themselves as artists.” She also confided that she likes being surrounded by art and creativity.

Among other art program benefits she’s observed, Morris spoke about students achieving better ability to concentrate. She cited in particular a series of anatomy lessons for artists, during which the students opted to study such varied body parts as nerve cells, tonsils and spinal columns.

Morris praised the gallery as a “safe place” for students, with “fulfilling” activities that help the students make friends, “learn and grow.” She outlined the governance of the student board, which operates to raise money and disburse funds to other worthy charitable causes.

Morris further said that she invites anyone in East County to stop by the gallery for a visit, as she, the other staffers and the students love to share the gallery with people and let them see the art classes creating artworks. She singled out for appreciation recent donors who have brought in remodeling project remainders, such as cabinet doors and window frames, which the Sophie’s Gallery artists have transformed into lovely art pieces. She also noted the front window’s Christmas tree, decked with hand-decorated wooden ornaments, which were given to the gallery by a local woodworker who cut the shapes for the students. 

Morris continued her wish list for the New Year, discussing the full series of exhibits and shows that the Sophie’s Gallery artists will participate in during 2016. Morris invited interested people to keep track of the events schedule, such as the upcoming Valentine-themed “Gotta’ Have Heart: Monochromatic,” featuring mosaic cabinet doors. That show will run from Feb. 5-29, introduced with a reception on Friday, Feb. 5, from 5-8 p.m. 

The St. Madeleine Sophie’s Center is gearing up to commemorate its 50th anniversary year, with a gala celebration late in 2016. Developmental disabilities are cognitive disorders such as autism, Down syndrome, epilepsy, and cerebral palsy. Although these conditions cannot be cured, the center provides developmentally disabled individuals education, including work skills training and behavioral modification programs, social enrichment and related services to assist campus students in reaching each one’s full potential for life and integration into the community.

Sophie’s Gallery is located at 109 Rea Avenue in El Cajon, open to the public on weekdays, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The gallery can be reached by phone at (619) 593-2205 or by email at sophiesgallery@stmsc.org. More information can also be found online at www.stmsc.org.

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