News Article Details

Acme man with cerebral palsy paints to calm PTSD, seed entrepreneurial enterprise

The Record-Eagle - 11/16/2019

Nov. 15--TRAVERSE CITY -- Abe Ferris is prone to saying "daaaang" and "sweet" when someone does something nice for him.

His niece recently offered to buy a ceramic tile he painted.

"She said, 'I'll give you $25 for it,'" Ferris said. "I was shocked. I said 'sweet."'

Then Julie O'Hearn Cox, the owner of Handz On Art where Ferris frequents, gave him a $50 ceramic platter to paint.

"She's like, 'Here you go,'" Ferris said. "I'm like 'daaaang.' Do you know why she did that? Because she believes in my cause."

Ferris' corner is crowded with support as he embarks on his new business selling painted ceramics. His first show is Nov. 17 at the Presbyterian Church of Traverse City on Westminster Road.

Ferris is 43, has cerebral palsy and requires a caregiver 24/7. But he has sought independence since his early 20s, he said.

The Acme native has lived independently, taken business courses at Northwestern Michigan College and held a number of jobs over the years.

"The only thing I can't do is walk," Ferris said. "The only difference is that I use wheels to get around instead of legs."

His employment history includes working greeting and security jobs at Walmart, stocking vending machines and teaching downstate courses in recipient rights to caregivers, an issue close to his own experience with Michigan'sDepartment of Health and Human Services in adult care homes.

"I was teaching caregivers how to work with someone with a disability," said Ferris, adding that he liked the paycheck.

But his endgame is to make money through entrepreneurship, he said.

"If you have a disability, no matter what the job is, finding the right one is hard," Ferris said. "There's also not a lot there for somebody with a disability. That is why I decided to start my own business."

He was already doing art as a way to work through his PTSD, he said. His hands stop quaking when he paints, he said.

"The cerebral palsy causes me to shake quite a bit," Ferris said. "You would think that my work would have a lot of shakes. But believe it or not, it calms me down -- that's why it helps with my post-traumatic stress syndrome."

He has frequented Handz on Art for a number of years and O'Hearn Cox knows Ferris well, she said.

"I've known him for 20 years," O'Hearn Cox said. "He's a great guy, demanding, and great."

O'Hearn Cox, a former nurse, has donated several pieces to Ferris' business.

"I'm excited for him. He was talking about it, and then he had this church show and his dad made him business cards, and I think that's great," O'Hearn Cox said.

"Some people just talk. Abe's got that energy and that go-get-em spirit."

He works within his physical constraints, she said, by sponging the backgrounds and directing the fine detail work.

The details are filled in by caregivers Gretchen Bowers and her colleague Nicolas Verheggen, who work 12-24 hour shifts caring for Ferris.

"It lets me use my artiness," Verheggen said, who took art all four years of high school.

Bowers, who says that she's "not super-great but can pull a few things off," has drawn everything from trillium to the Detroit Tigers "D."

"He tells us what he wants, like a saying or a snowman and what he wants it to look like," Bowers said. "It exemplifies the variety of ideas that he has and what all of us can come up with together."

Ferris paints tiles, Christmas ornaments, Bible verses and other pre-made ceramics. He will sell 18 pieces priced between $20-50 at the Nov. 17 show.

He plans for another exposition on Sept. 20 but anticipates most of his orders will come by request over the phone at 231-486-6863.

Making art -- and his own money -- reinforces his sense of worth, Ferris said.

"It makes me feel good about myself, knowing that I succeeded in something.""The only thing I can't do is walk. The only difference is that I use wheels to get around instead of legs." Abe Ferris

"The only thing I can't do is walk. The only difference is that I use wheels to get around instead of legs." Abe Ferris


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