By Patti Murphy
Sometimes celebrating diversity, generosity and triumph over adversity just makes sense.
So it seems a fitting coincidence that Rick Hohn, longtime DynaVox friend and senior consumer representative, and his longtime friend Dr. Sherry Best, Professor in Special Education, Physical & Health Impairments in the Charter College of Education at California State University—Los Angeles (CSULA) are doing just that during this celebration-filled season.
Friends and associates joined them at Martin Luther King Hall on campus Thursday, December 12 for the unveiling and dedication of “Victorious Struggle,” an original mural through which Hohn, an accomplished visual artist, tells of his childhood friend who led an active and spirited life while coping with physical challenges related to polio, including paralysis from his chest to his toes.
Dr. Best and her husband John purchased and donated the mural “to give a legacy to the university that openly appreciates that disability is one aspect of diversity,” Dr. Best said.
CSULA is widely known for its special education teacher training programs. For the past 15 years, Hohn has been a guest lecturer for the Thursday evening postgraduate augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) course Dr. Best teaches. Twice every quarter, he travels to Los Angeles from his home near San Diego to share his personal experiences with AAC use with her students. Students from Dr. Best’s current AAC class attended the mural dedication ceremony.
Hohn speaks with the aid of a DynaVox Maestro because of significant communication challenges related to his cerebral palsy. He also has limited use of his limbs and uses a paintbrush attached to a head stylus to paint. Hohn’s multi-faceted career is an unlimited labor of love. He is the assistant pastor of a church and an author. Hohn’s talents run in his family. His mother, and some aunts and uncles, were also artists. He inherited his gift for preaching, he says, from his grandfather, a German immigrant and a missionary. The second edition of Hohn’s autobiography, “More Than A Watchmaker,” is newly released.
Thirteen feet wide and more than four feet tall after a custom reframing, “Victorious Struggle” occupies a space near the King Hall entrance. Preparations for the mural’s installation included the conversion from halogen to LED lighting to bring more natural light, and a more welcoming look, to the foyer, complementing the story behind Hohn’s painting.
“We looked at several of his art pieces, but ‘Victorious Struggle’ really spoke to us,” Dr. Best said of how she and her husband came to give their gift. “He said, ‘Sherry, how perfect. Let’s go for it.” John Best is a consultant with Housing Works, a non-profit organization serving homeless individuals.
The mural, displayed in Hohn’s church at one time, consists of seven scenes that show in a right to left progression the careful yet successful movement of the young boy Hohn knew as he makes the transition from sitting on the floor to a standing position. Hohn described this effort in detail through the DynaVox Maestro while addressing the recent university audience, recalling the lifelong inspiration he has drawn from the tenacity his friend showed in doing things usually taken for granted. The story is inscribed beneath the mural. A Braille version is attached to the acrylic box that covers the painting so those with visual impairments can appreciate the sentiments that “Victorious Struggle” embodies.
Dr. Best said the mural brings home the universal message that struggle, like life, is a process, not an ending. “Many times the process itself is as important as the end product.” In her opening remarks at the dedication ceremony, she posed a rhetorical question: “Would the subject of this painting be as strong if he did not need to struggle to stand up?”
Students, teachers and others who visit CSULA’s King Hall will likely ponder and appreciate those very thoughts in their own ways for years to come. And that is the whole idea
“I wanted to do something meaningful,” Dr. Best said. “It’s a complete ‘win-win’ situation.”
For more information about Rick Hohn’s artwork and autobiography, visit www.spiritwheelsministry.com.