A Room of Golden Shells: Art and Poetry
by Teens and Adults with Down Syndrome
Various authors, Woodbine House 2013. 213 pp.
Reviewed by Emily Gaudette, Project Associate
Recruitment, Training and Support Center for Special Education Surrogate Parents
This collection is a gorgeous tour of North American artists and poets with Down syndrome. The artists’ faces appear with their works, and each page feels like a personal interaction with them. The visual art ranges from colorful (Beth Ann Gregus’ Heart is layered with gold metallic textures) to contemplative (Michael Shimmel’s Untitled 1 is worth a long look.) Some experiment with light and texture, and others depict faces and objects with startling realism. Though the skill here is undeniable, most noteworthy is the volume’s variety in subject matter, tone, and medium.
A Room of Golden Shells leads the reader down Aliza Bible’s “ribbon of highway,” which she describes in her poem Man in the Moon. The poets describe difficult issues: grief, bullying and what Debbie Chandler poignantly calls The Race Toward Normal. The book is defiant and celebratory. Each piece responds to society’s limited understanding of the artists’ abilities and gifts and demands a reexamination of artists with Down syndrome. Adrian Drower answers what Langston Hughes asked in 1926 (“What happens to a dream deferred?”) with his moving poem No Longer Deferred. “A withered flower can grow back/more beautiful than ever/dreams like pine trees last forever,” Drower writes. The message is simple: nurturing the gifts of artists and writers with Down syndrome is an important endeavor. Their work is compelling, their experiences fascinating, and their voices deserve to be heard.