The art of the possible

Perkins alumna Amy Caliri didn’t let deafblindness stop her from becoming Gateway Arts’ most successful painter.

A woman smiles in front of a large piece of artwork

Amy Caliri’s parents called her “the bionic baby.”

Born severely deaf and with impaired vision, Caliri had to wear hearing aids and thick glasses to hear and see the world around her. Her parents hoped that someday people would look past the bulky apparatus and see her simply as Amy.

That day has arrived. Caliri, 38, is now a successful artist, and her name is known and respected by collectors who buy her paintings for as much as $900.

Right place, right time

Caliri first came to Perkins School for the Blind as a preschooler, and then returned to Perkins as a residential high school student. Her father, Tony Caliri, wanted her to experience living with other students who had grown up with sensory impairments. He also wanted her to learn life skills. Since his daughter had a cognitive impairment, he knew this would make it easier for her to transition to a group home later.

“The living skills, all of that, were just incredible (at Perkins),” said Tony Caliri. “It was the best place for her to be.”

As part of her life-skills training, Caliri spent time at Gateway Arts, a service of Vinfen in Brookline, Massachusetts, a nonprofit that helps people with disabilities find a career in art. She returned to Gateway when she left Perkins and has been there for almost 20 years.

“As long as she’s creating, she’s happy,” said Courtney McKenna, Gateway’s marketing and special projects coordinator.

Unique process

Caliri works in the studio five days a week and has developed a unique process to create art. She suggests a topic – lately it’s been animals – and her facilitator Ashley downloads related photos from the web. Caliri, whose glasses enhance her vision enough to see nearby objects, selects one image. She then interprets the photo on a large 30×40 inch canvas.

As a facilitator, Ashley gives Caliri the assistance and encouragement she needs to make her artistic visions come to life. For example, using sign language, Caliri tells Ashley what colors she wants for the painting. Ashley offers a full spectrum of each color so Caliri can pick the perfect hue.

Stroke by stroke, a scene emerges on the canvas. Caliri paints first in thick, black lines, which give blunt shape to the images. Then she fills them in with vivid colors – brash blues, blazing reds, blissful yellows –that burst off the canvas, infusing the painting with energy and life.

When it’s finished, Caliri’s artwork is sold at The Gateway Gallery and online at the Gateway Arts website. Her paintings have also been exhibited at the Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton, the Mall at Chestnut Hill and other Massachusetts locations.

As her popularity has grown, some collectors purchase her artwork before the paint is even dry. Caliri is now Gateway’s highest earning artist.

Her dad Tony Caliri couldn’t be prouder. “I tell people we have a son who’s a principal in high school,” he said, “and a daughter who’s an artist.”

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