Sewickley library displaying work by artist who draws, paints with feet
Sandy Allison searches her computer, typing out words until she pulls up the perfect picture she'd like to replicate. It's a yellow hibiscus, the state flower of Hawaii, where her brother recently moved.
Without any use of her arms, Allison, 67, types words using her feet. That's also how she draws, sketches and paints. Born with cerebral palsy, Allison began drawing when she was just 5 or 6.
Her art will be featured in the display cases at the Sewickley Public Library throughout August.
“She is an amazing artist who creates impressive paintings and drawings using her feet,” said Janet Huddleston of Glen Osborne.
Huddleston conducts art classes in nursing homes and for the intellectually disabled. She met Sandy several years ago at Citizens Care, Inc. Walden, an adult daycare center in Kennedy.
“Her talent is amazing,” said friend and art coach John Gegick, who has worked with Sandy for 27 years at Citizen's Care. Gegick majored in psychology at the University of Pittsburgh and later studied commercial art at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.
He heard about Allison when he started working at Citizen's Care and said they became friends.
“That's the easiest part of working with her, is because we're friends,” Gegick said.
Allison is not vocal and can't hear well. She communicates by writing with her feet, typing out words or pointing to words on a communication board. She also enjoys doing word puzzles.
“She eats with her feet, does everything with her feet,” Gegick said.
Tammy O'Brien, supervisor at Citizen's Care, said she spoke to Allison's brother, Michael, about her talent.
“As far back as he could remember, she was drawing flags and trains,” O'Brien said.
Her collection of works include paintings, watercolors and pencil drawings – some are free-footed paintings of Pittsburgh bridges and animals, though Allison prefers architectural drawings. She did the PPG building, the White House and colorful cherry blossoms outside the Washington Monument in D.C. Allison also is drawn to patriotic symbols such as flags and the bald eagle.
Gegick said there is a process they use to do Allison's paintings. She picks a picture and it is enlarged. She then uses a grid to sketch.
The finished drawing is turned over and the back is covered in pencil to transfer the image to a cleaner page. She then works from the new page, filling in colors and adding finishing touches.
Each art piece is signed “Sandy.”
Her work is in demand. For at least 10 years, she has created the art for the agency's annual Christmas card. For the past 25 years, she has donated a painting to be auctioned for the annual golf outing KDKA-TV sports anchor Bob Pompeani organizes at the Chartiers Country Club in Robinson. Her first painting was a golf bag and shoes.
“Every year we go. Everybody loves her there. She has so many friends there, it's ridiculous,” Gegick said.
Allison spends about two hours a day on her art. One painting could take about 24 hours, Gegick said, adding that she is patient.
“If it doesn't look right to her, she'll erase it and start all over,” he said.
Gegick said Allison goes through periods with her interests. When he began working with her, she was drawing “anything Pittsburgh.” Then she moved on to Washington, D.C., and began painting eagles and beaches.
Allison gets inspiration from trips she takes, which have ranged from beach cruises to the Bahamas and hotel stays to New York City and Walt Disney World.
Lately, her art relates to Hawaii, where her brother recently moved. Allison wants to visit for her birthday in October. She'll definitely go at some point, Gegick says.
Her goal is to sell her work to fund her travels. Her first art show at United Cerebral Palsy's Centre Art Gallery in Oakland included 24 pieces and she raised $5,000.
Her art work also will be available for sale after the Sewickley show ends.
“I probably care more about these pictures than she does,” Gegick said. “She wants to go. She loves traveling.”
Larissa Dudkiewicz is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.