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‘It doesn’t define me’ – Webster art student with Cerebral Palsy finds a way to pursue her dreams
To Samantha Peters, a senior in Studio Arts with a minor in psychology, art is not a hobby but something that is a part of her life.
Born with cerebral palsy on one side of her body, Peters saw art as a way to grow and help others. It is calming to her. She carries a sketchbook everywhere she goes. She said it is easy to get lost in a drawing – her thoughts will drift off but her hands will keep working.
“Just the tools that are involved, you get into it like a routine. I find it helpful and just clearing my head and kind of getting certain ideas and perspectives,” Peters said.
Peters said her first love was not art but swimming. She said she got involved with art after surgery on her right hand.
“I couldn’t swim for a solid six months. I still swim laps, like three times a week or try to, but because I couldn’t do [art]. I’m going to do art because I have my left hand to use to create pieces and [it] pretty much took off from there,” Peters said.
Peters said as a baby they didn’t know how intense her condition was so they didn’t know if she would ever be able to walk. She said they told her she will be in a wheelchair because of cerebral palsy.
Peters said that her journey with art has been a way to see both of her hands as typical hands by working with materials, and figuring out how she can use them with one hand. She said she is able to do the same things her classmates can do, just differently.
Before she transferred to Webster University, Peters was volunteering at Easter Seals, a program that provides services to people with autism or other disabilities. She said that some kids need occupational therapy for fine motor skills, and art contends with it due to the act of twisting and untwisting paints, gluing things and picking up a paintbrush.
Peters said art helps her, and she likes that it can help others. As a member of Active Minds, an organization that discusses mental health, Peters said that art therapy is a way to deal with mental health, and she wants to be involved with mental health awareness.
“These steps are how you can get help [instead of saying] ‘oh, I shouldn’t bring up mental health, I can’t ask for help’ and Active Minds is a group that is focused on saying it’s okay to ask for help. It’s not a taboo situation. There are resources there for you and others are going through this too. You’re not alone,” Peters said.
Tara Jones, president of Active Minds, met Peters at a portfolio review where they were interviewed in order to be accepted into the art program. Jones said Peters started off their friendship by telling her that she has cerebral palsy. Jones then confided to Peters that she has bipolar disorder, ADHD and anxiety.
“Once people find out that they have some sort of diagnosis, [people] put our type, basically this person with thoughts, feelings, and emotions turn into bullet point symptoms,” Jones said. “I know Sam feels that way, I felt that way.”
Jones said she often forgets that Peters has cerebral palsy because she spends so much time time with her. They can just be themselves around each other and Jones knows who Peters is as a person. Jones said they only have one class together and it causes separation anxiety for her when they are not together
“We try to see each other as much as possible because we really encourage each other,” Jones said. “We’re like sisters. She is the third sister I never had.”
Brian Zimmerman is a sculpture professor at Webster. He said he saw a lot of confidence in Peters as a person and as an artist. Zimmerman said that Peters is willing to understand a project or an idea and expand on it.
“One of the things I’m looking for in a student is someone who is relatively fearless. Someone that’s going to explore and push themselves [even if it makes] them uncomfortable.,” Zimmerman said. “As a student she really understands which makes it easier to work with because she’s there for herself and this environment and not do her thing regardless of where she is.”
In Sculpture 1, Zimmerman said that he was concerned with Peters utilizing some of the tools like table sawing or welding because of her limited mobility with cerebral palsy. Zimmerman said while in his class Peters needs little assistance and that she is independent. He said what he admires about Peters is that she knows what she wants and she doesn’t shy away from criticism. When she has an idea, Zimmerman said, she goes above and beyond in her projects.
“She has the ability to think ahead, have a goal and she always shows up with 50 percent or more, and we ask everyone to do that but she is a good example of it,” Zimmerman said.
Peters said when she was younger, kids did not know how to react around her and assumed that she needed help because of her disability.
“It makes me feel like I can’t do things on my own,” Peters said. “I’m someone of a burden to others.”
Peters goes through her day to day life with cerebral palsy, and she said she is not planning on getting a lot of attention for it. She said people will try to help before they know how to help. Peters said she wants to be able to do what she can do first, and if she needs help, she will ask.
“I got into middle school and I had a teacher for a summer art course. So she knew what I was capable of and she [would] hover and [say], ‘okay, do you need anything?’ [I’d say] ‘Nope and she’d say, Oh, okay, I’m going to go somewhere else then,” Peters said.
Peters said that she is more confident when coming up with ideas and she takes what others have to say but she said that she relies on what she think about her projects.
“As I go through different stages in art, I become more and more comfortable with almost dismissing the fact that I have [cerebral palsy],” Peters said. “It doesn’t define me anymore, I am me and [cerebral palsy] is just there.”