Windows – A Glimpse of Kaitrin’s World

By Tom Beechey

Kaitrin Beechey is a young artist with Asperger Syndrome, living in Cambridge Ontario. Although non-verbal until she was seven years old, Kaitie was always very graphic, captivated by intricate detail, pattern and repetition. These traits dominate her drawings of hidden fantasy worlds that unknowingly surround us. Through her art, Kaitie interprets and records everyday things that most of us overlook.

As a child, Kaitie constantly drew pictures mostly of fantasy settings and imaginary characters, often with themes about nature. Her desk drawers would be filled with drawings. Kaitie drew everywhere (and still does)—while driving on trips, watching TV, visiting friends and family, in restaurants and any other situation where she was able to draw. Her parents saved many examples of her early art, including a 15-foot scroll depicting a pastoral landscape of woodlands, wetlands and wild creatures.

Kaitie took the opportunity to liberally illustrate school projects such as posters, essays and book reports, with pictures of various subjects and storyline characters to compensate for writing, which presented a challenge to her. The encouragement offered by special education teachers and aides did much to reinforce her artistic expression and communication. Conversely, formal art classes were often frustrating because she found the focus on learning traditional principles and rote skills often too constraining.

Especially rewarding were art courses taken at the Homer Watson Gallery, in Doon, Ontario, where a resident artist related to Kaitie’s style and encouraged self-expression. Here she was exposed to peers who helped her social development in a setting more relaxed than formal art classes in elementary and high school environments. Throughout her school years she sharpened her abilities, as though awaiting an opportunity for release.

Kaitie’s first breakthrough came when her special education teacher at Jacob Hespeler Secondary School, Betty Clemens-Jones, informed her about an opportunity to exhibit her art at a special education conference in 2002 in Toronto sponsored by the Ontario Ministry of Education and Autism Society of Ontario (ASO). ASO staff was so captivated with her work that they used her display at another exhibition in Toronto. Subsequently, in 2004, ASO commissioned a limited edition printing of Kaitie’s ‘Dragonflies’ (which was printed on the summer 2004 issue of ‘Newslink’ ASO’s newsletter) as gifts for retiring ASO directors.

Kaitie has since attended many exhibitions, and fundraiser benefits. A highlight in 2004, was attending the Geneva Symposium in Toronto where she was delighted to meet many other talented artists, along with personalities such as Temple Grandin and Jessica Kingsley who further encouraged her to pursue her art career. It was here that she first met Maureen Bennie, who also offered much encouragement, inspiration and an opportunity to tour with the autism workshops organized by the Autism Awareness Centre Inc. (AACI) across Canada. This led to a very successful exhibition and sale in Ottawa in March, 2005, subsequent exposure of her work in Halifax, Grand Prairie, St. John’s, NF, and ongoing spirited collaboration with Maureen and AACI.

In describing her art and its development Kaitie recalls: “I started drawing when I was very young, whenever I did not have anything else to do. But as I grew older, drawing became the ‘windows’ to my world. My whimsical art often portrays fantasy settings and imaginary characters. My pictures have a lot of detail. I use black pen, and sometimes pencil and I like to fill the entire space to make it really intricate. I like the dramatic effect of black and white patterns.  I get my ideas from many places—reading favourite books like ‘Harry Potter’, watching movies like ‘Lord of the Rings’, listening to music like ‘Enya’, hiking in the woods, and my vivid imagination.”

In 2004, ‘Windows by Kaitrin’ was established as a means for Kaitie to market and sell her art. Through this venture, Kaitie promotes her art, arranges her exhibitions, and sells her work. Presently Kaitie’s product line includes a series of 8” x 10” prints, each print hand-titled, numbered and signed in a limited edition of 100. She is currently planning to introduce new pieces this year, some in larger formats. Kaitie also sells packaged note cards featuring four of her whimsical depictions—Young Sorceress, Castles, Mermaid and Sailing.

To support the ASD community, Kaitie sometimes donates art for charitable auctions and gives a portion of her profits to charitable organizations that sponsor her exhibitions and sales. She is always eager to meet new artists and to receive feedback on her work, which she hopes to feature on a website later this year. For now, she welcomes comments and enquiries about her art, which can be ordered via e-mail at kaitrin@sympatico.ca

Kaitie graduated from Jacob Hespeler Secondary School and is exploring opportunities for enrolment in college or university, where she is interested in pursuing ‘women’s studies’ and further training in art. In addition to her art, she is apprenticing in stained glass. She works at Michaels Arts & Crafts. Non-verbal until age seven, she is now an avid reader and an advocate for peers.

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