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Friday, May 24 2013 04:12 PM

A splash of color: Wheelchairs used to create murals

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Ron McOwen gets a little speed in his wheelchair while laying paint down on the mural with his chair wheels at the Independent Living Center of Kern County with two other buddies.

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  2. 2 of 8

    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Art mentor Nicole Saint-John and Josephine O'Meara selected several colors to start the mural with at the Independent Living Center.

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  3. 3 of 8

    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Brian Rathfelder gets in some laughs during the mural painting project.

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  4. 4 of 8

    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Nicole Saint-John, art mentor, right, and Josephine O'Meara help the three wheelchair artists to get started on their mural project.

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  5. 5 of 8

    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Ron McOwen, retired Navy veteran and Rolling Chariot member, pours some paint onto the canvas at the Independent Living Center of Kern County.

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  6. 6 of 8

    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Ron McOwen, left, and Charlie Alvary work as a team while painting the mural with their wheels.

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  7. 7 of 8

    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Brian Rathfelder spreads the green paint on his wheels before applying it to the mural Thursday at the Independent Living Center of Kern County.

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  8. 8 of 8

    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Ron McOwen tosses Charlie Alvary a bottle of paint as they almost finish the mural created using their wheelchairs.

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BY LAURA LIERA Californian staff writer lliera@bakersfield.com

Bottles of different colors sat atop a table in the corner of the Independent Living Center of Kern County. A white canvas was taped down on the floor and the eyes of people who use wheelchairs scanned around the room, trying to figure out how exactly they were going to paint.

Little did they know they were about to become the Leonardo da Vincis of Bakersfield for one night.

Related Info

Independent Living Center of Kern County events

* Wheel It! Wheelchair murals: Last workshop is 6 to 7 p.m. May 30.

* Celebrating Independence: July 20, benefitting the Transitions Program, which moves people out of institutions into their own homes.

* For more information contact the center at 325-1063 or visit www.ilcofkerncounty.org.

"I want you guys to create a piece of artwork, a mural, using your wheelchairs," said Nicole Saint-John, the art mentor from Kern Community Arts Partnership.

With a raised eyebrow and eager look, Ron McOwen, 52, took the first bowl of orange paint, dropped the color on one of the corners of the canvas, dipped his front wheels in the paint and started spinning around, creating circles as he spun.

Laughing and smiling, McOwen spun faster, which caused the circles to get bigger and without noticing, he began to create a piece of artwork.

"This is so cool and something my granddaughters would enjoy doing with me," he said as he raced back to the table to grab another bowl of color.

The Wheel It workshop is part of ArtAble, a set of workshops funded by The Bakersfield Californian Foundation that allows people with disabilities to live exceptionally through art.

Christine Lollar, resource development manager at the Independent Living Center, met with Saint-John and talked about a way to create murals, where people with wheelchairs could wheel through paint and create different textures and unique canvases.

"The first night, there was a little apprehension because it was something so foreign and new but once the first person wheeled through paint, you could see and feel the amount of fun they were having," Lollar said.

And the laugher and sounds of wheels on the canvas was exactly what happened Thursday. After 15 minutes, the once-white canvas started looking like an abstract mural, with purple, orange and green wheel textures imprinted on it.

Instead of dropping the paint on the canvas, Brian Rathfelder, 28, took the bright red paint and smeared it on his wheels with both hands, using his wheels like a paint brush.

"My initial thoughts of today was that it was going to be an event full of color madness," Rathfelder said, smiling as he tried to get paint off his forearm.

The murals created on the three different nights of the workshop will be auctioned or commissioned, and they will be displayed at the center's Celebrating Independence event in July. Funds raised will go toward transitioning people from institutions to their own homes.

Cleaning around the finished colored canvas, Saint-John said she was more than pleased with the workshop turnout since she initially had no idea what she was going to come up with.

"I did research and found that a lot of places do this so we knew it was going to be an experiment," she said. "But seeing the great attitude and how they embrace their disability just makes me so happy and it encourages me."

The workshop helped McOwen forget about any problems he was having during the week and made him feel good.

"I wasn't having a very good day, but this made my day better," he said.

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