Artist depicts personal struggle with dyslexia

Thursday, January 19, 2006

When he was about 11 years old, Eric McGehearty slipped off a fence and broke his arm. He expected to sit idle in art class, but his teacher had other expectations. So, with a marker in his mouth and chalk tied to his toe, McGehearty kept drawing.

It was a lesson he never forgot. If a broken arm wouldn't stop him from drawing, nothing would keep him from overcoming dyslexia, a learning disability that makes it difficult for him to read and write.

McGehearty, an adjunct professor at Tarrant County College 's Southeast Campus in Arlington, is sharing his private struggle in a very public way -- through his art.

His artwork focuses on restrictions on reading and writing and has been exhibited at the Dallas Museum of Art, the Dallas Public Library and 416 West Gallery in Denison. Prominent art collector Raymond Nasher recognized his work with an honorable mention in a 2004 juried exhibition. McGehearty's pieces evoke thoughts not just about learning disabilities, but about censorship and a lack of educational resources.

"I don't want it to be all about dyslexia," he says. "I want it to be about ideas and access to information. It starts with my struggle. But it's about everyone's struggles."

In his sculptures, books are encased in concrete. A student's desk is tangled upside-down in the branches of a thorny tree of knowledge. Words are distorted and out of focus. A calculus book is caged in a geometric jungle of stainless steel.

"It's the same kind of feeling I get when I go into a library. You see the books, but you can't open them. You can't get the information out of them," says McGehearty, whose work can be seen on his website, www.ericmcgehearty.com.

Diagnosed with dyslexia at age 5 , McGehearty attended the Shelton School in Dallas for students with learning differences. He received his bachelor's degree from the University of the Ozarks in Clarksville, Ark., and a master of fine arts degree from the University of North Texas in 2004.

He has learned to cope -- and succeed -- with dyslexia. He listens to audio recordings of one or two books a week, and he has learned tricks, like spelling his wife's name, Heather, as three small words: he-at-her.

"It's not really a hampering thing at all," he says of dyslexia. "It just takes a little more effort."

In addition to Tarrant County College, he has taught at Eastfield College in Mesquite, part of the Dallas County Community College District. He is currently creating a commissioned sculpture of bronze firefighters' boots for a Fort Worth fire station.

And now, two of his sculptures are on permanent display at the Shelton School, the place where his art teacher inspired him about 15 years ago.

"It's fulfilling to have them there," he says. "That's one group particularly attuned to what I'm talking about."

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