Juneau Museum features pandemic artwork by local non-verbal painter

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Museum visitors examine the work of Avery Skaggs at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum on Friday, January 7, 2022. (Photo by Bridget Dowd / KTOO)


On Friday night, the walls of the Juneau-Douglas Municipal Museum were covered in canvases splashed with brightly colored paint. It was a stark contrast to the dark, gray city outside.

The vibrant pieces were created by 34-year-old local artist Avery Skaggs.

“All of her art is handmade,” said Avery’s sister, Lea Skaggs. “So it’s like a really abstract finger painting process. “

The exhibition is entitled “Home: handicap and creativity in pandemic containment”.

Avery, who did not attend his opening reception due to COVID-19 issues, is in a wheelchair and is not speaking. But he communicates in other ways, like through facial expressions, noises, and his craft.

Avery Skaggs is an artist from Juneau who is non-verbal and uses a wheelchair. The movement of his hand is limited, but he paints with his fingers. (Photo courtesy of Josh Smith)

“He’s very expressive when he paints,” Lea said. “It’s like you can see that he is enjoying the process and I think a lot of paintings sort of show that expression because you can see there’s a lot of movement involved in creating these things.”

Josh Smith is the Avery Case Manager at TIDES LLC, which provides home and community services to people with developmental and developmental disabilities.

“His hand movements are limited in terms of fine motor skills,” Smith said. “For example, he doesn’t have the ability to pick up an object and hold it in his hand. He can pick up an object briefly and pull it away from him.

Avery gets help setting up his workspace, but the rooms he creates are 100% his own work.

“When it comes to the hits you see on any given coin, that’s all about Avery,” Smith said. “It’s a sensory experience for him. He enjoys the feel of the paint on his fingers. He enjoys the sensations of handling paint on a surface or canvas.

All of the paintings on display in the exhibit were created during the pandemic when, like the rest of the world, Avery’s routine was interrupted.

“[Avery’s] way of producing his works has changed dramatically, ”said Smith.

For at least a decade, Avery spent four days a week at a community art space downtown, but when businesses around the world closed, the art studio did the same.

“The staff at TIDES had to problem solve how Avery was going to be able to indulge their passion,” Smith said.

A new exhibit at the Juneau-Douglas Municipal Museum features paintings created by local artist Avery Skaggs. Skaggs is in a wheelchair and is not verbal, but expresses himself through art. (Photo by Bridget Dowd / KTOO)

There were a few hiccups for Avery’s Guardians as they took charge of an aspect of his care they weren’t used to, but eventually they found their rhythm.

“[Avery has] created an absolutely magnificent piece of work during that time, which is, in my mind, hallmark of its adaptability, ”Smith said. “I think the plays are about the dramatic changes that have taken place.”

Avery’s paintings will be on display at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum until January 28 and all are for sale.

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