A delightful menagerie comes out of Andrew Jeruss' artist studio: dogs, cats, cows, giraffes, birds, butterflies, camels, bison, turtles, elephants, penguins, pigs. He creates them as collages using whimsical colors and patterns.
A collection of his expressive, sweet-faced creatures is on exhibit starting Dec. 3 at the Mandell Jewish Community Center in West Hartford.
Jeruss, 31, has spent his life dealing with profound deafness, low vision and neurological disabilities. After graduating at age 22 from the special-needs programs at Bristol Central High School, he and his family faced a question: What will Andrew do with his life?
"He fell through the cracks. He wasn't in a program. He didn't qualify for programs with DSS because of his high intelligence. But he is not capable of independent, unsupervised employment," says his mother Irene, a retired garden photographer. "I thought, I didn't want to see him before a TV screen or a computer monitor 24 hours a day, seven days a week."
Because of her son's fondness for art, Irene Jeruss converted a room on the second floor of their Bristol home into an artist studio. She filled it with the art supplies he likes best — paint, pastel sticks, hundreds of different types of paper to make collages — and gave him the space, to let his imagination run free.
Andrew likes animals best. He scours the Internet and books for pictures of animals — farm, arctic, jungle, etc. — to inspire him, then creates his own animals, sometimes with realistic colors for body parts and sometimes getting a bit crazy: striped heads, glittery legs, gingham-yellow antlers, polka-dot feathers, paisley wings, flowery bellies, animals with two blue and two yellow legs, a camel with one red and one green hump, a dog in a houndstooth pattern.
C. Dianne Zweig, a fellow collage artist who met Andrew at Farmington Valley Art Center, took him under her wing, getting his work in the FVAC gift shop and helping to arrange the Mandell JCC show.
"Andrew and I bonded when I gave him some textured metallic papers, which delighted him. ... I was curious to see what animals would now come alive for him with these new papers I offered," Zweig said. "His work was both simple and yet sophisticated to me. I couldn't wait to see each new series he came up with."
In addition to working in his studio, Andrew takes art classes at Bristol Adult Resource Center and volunteers at the Southside Elementary School library. He also takes commissions. His joy in creating art has inspired his mother to start doing it, too. Her easel is in the same room as his collage space, and they chat while working on projects.
"It's so rewarding," Irene Jeruss says. "At the end of the day, even if you've just done something simple, you can say, hey, I did this."
THAT ARTIST ANDREW: ANDREW JERUSS will be at Chase Family Gallery at Mandell Jewish Community Center, 335 Bloomfield Ave. in West Hartford, from Sunday, Dec. 3, when it opens with a reception from 1 to 4 p.m., until Jan. 7. All the work is for sale. mandelljcc.org.