published Sunday, April 15th, 2012

Autistic artist brings work to McMinn County

Grace Goad, left, and her mother, Leisa Hammett, stand with one of Goad's paintings currently on display at the McMinn County Living Heritage Museum.
Grace Goad, left, and her mother, Leisa Hammett, stand with one of Goad's paintings currently on display at the McMinn County Living Heritage Museum.
Photo by Randall Higgins.


• What: Exhibition of Grace Goad artwork through April 27

• Where: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday at McMinn County Living Heritage Museum, 522 W. Madison Ave., Athens, Tenn.

• Admission: $5 adults, $3 seniors and students; free for museum members

• Information/directions:

ATHENS, Tenn. -- Her autism may attract attention first, but her art keeps the eyes focused.

Grace Walker Goad, a Nashville 17-year-old, has artwork widely exhibited in the permanent collections of Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, Vanderbilt Children's Hospital and the Tennessee State Museum.

Her talent took her to a segment on television's "The View" in 2007.

Goad's work is on the road these days, too, from art galleries in Seattle and New York to her hometown, Nashville. She will be featured in a book on autistic artists this year.

"All of the artists we have had have unique visions,'' said Ashley Rush, executive director of the McMinn County Living Heritage Museum. This is the fourth year the museum has featured an exhibit by an autistic artist in April, National Autism Awareness Month.

Visitors may purchase the works on display or buy cards with Goad's art at the museum.

The autism exhibitions were started by Lisa Chastain, curator of collections and exhibits.

"I am always amazed by the depth and quality of the work,'' Chastain said. "Art lovers will absolutely find these paintings fascinating. They draw us into the artist's eyes.''

Autism support groups from Chattanooga to Knoxville will be interested, too, she said.

Goad was diagnosed with autism as a toddler. She always has attended public school, with help from a paraprofessional, even though autism severely limits her speech. Her mother, Leisa Hammett, speaks for her.

Her art began receiving regional media attention when she was 12.

"Art is subjective, so you have to be careful. She can't say what this means,'' Hammett said. "We tend to underestimate people with disabilities. But her art is pretty sophisticated. It is beyond her chronological age.''

A national report released a week ago says there are more autistic people in the United States than previously thought.

"Grace should not be an exception,'' Hammett said. "What if every child got someone to recognize their abilities? Someone to say, OK, they've got this challenge, but what can they do?''

"There is a movement called ARTism. Across the country more and more people are calling attention to this,'' Hammett said.

about Randall Higgins...

Randall Higgins covers news in Cleveland, Tenn., for the Times Free Press. He started work with the Chattanooga Times in 1977 and joined the staff of the Chattanooga Times Free Press when the Free Press and Times merged in 1999. Randall has covered Southeast Tennessee, Northwest Georgia and Alabama. He now covers Cleveland and Bradley County and the neighboring region. Randall is a Cleveland native. He has bachelor’s degree from Tennessee Technological University. His awards ...

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