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The Heart of an Artist

Olympia painter Dylan Kuehl has a nose for business and hands made for expressing emotions through his creations

Author: Lisa Pemberton

When he was 5, Dylan Kuehl used yellow and red crayons to sketch St. Francis of Assisi, the Roman Catholic saint who is known as a champion of justice and the patron saint of animals and the environment.

The simple drawing was more than refrigerator material for his mom Terri Rose.

She saw it as a sign - a message from her young son whose speech was then limited to three simple words because of Down syndrome.

"I just felt assured that he was going to see what was important," said Rose, 47. "He was going to be heard."

Today, nearly 18 years later, Kuehl speaks quite eloquently. And he still uses art as a form of self-expression.

The South Puget Sound Community College student - who is proprietor of DK Arts, an Olympia- based visual and performing arts company - was selected by the Lieutenant Governor's Art Council to show a collection of his original watercolor paintings in the state Capitol Building.

The show, which is in Lt. Gov. Brad Owen's office, is on display through the end of next month.

Although he has won several art contests and has had works published in numerous publications, Kuehl said he understands the prestige of this particular venue.

"It makes me feel very important," he said. "I get to feel connected to the community, the government."

He paused for a minute and glanced at Rose, who g ave her son a look of approval. Kuehl turned away.

"I've got to make sure I don't get my being important to o big in my head," he said, smiling.

Born on June 25, 1983, Kuehl has grown up in Olympia.

He attended Olympia Waldorf School and several schools in the Olympia School District, including Capital High School, where he graduated in 2002.

"That's where I did most of my watercolors," Kuehl said.

These days, he studies adult basic education at South Puget Sound Community College.

He paints at Loft Studio in Olympia once a week.

The colors he uses are soft. The scenes he paints are tranquil.

"It's very emotive," said Dick Meyer, owner of Traditions Cafe & World Folk Art in Olympia, which carries some of Kuehl's work. "It sets sort of a tone - especially the scenes. I would say people respond to just the feeling they get from looking at the art, and the sense of color."

Yet it's a beauty that comes from great pain.

Between the ages of 5 and 10, Kuehl was abused, Rose said.

A counselor suggested the family try using art, music and movement as a way to channel Kuehl's anger and to help him heal emotionally from the abuse.

Rose bought her son a drum set. She enrolled him in dance classes.

She gave him paint brushes, watercolors, canvas and encouragement.

"He's not a prolific artist," Rose said. "He doesn't push it out because of his attention to detail."

Kuehl has spent the past two years studying with Chris Brown, an art teacher at Loft Studio. Brown, a former medical illustrator, said Kuehl sometimes struggles with being a perfectionist.

But he also has seen continued improvement in Kuehl's skills and said his work stands out. "His work is emotional as opposed to pictorial," Brown said. "It's not nearly as academic (as other students')."

Visual arts aren't Kuehl's only passion.

He's a fierce rock 'n' roll drummer who hopes one day to orchestrate a reunion of punk rock band the Talking Heads.

"My plan is to have a cover band," Kuehl said, his eyes twinkling.

Kuehl also loves martial arts, dance and video games - especially "Jedi Outcast" and "Dark Forces."

"The Storm Troopers have figured out all of my secrets, and they are getting smarter," he said.

Kuehl is a Special Olympics gold medalist, most recently in power lifting.

He has studied dance for years and performs tap, modern and hip-hop.

"When he goes out there, he commands attention, and he stands there, kind of like a bullfighter, very sure of himself," said Sally Sehmsdorf.

She has known the family for about five years through her work with the now-defunct Center for Community Support, which helped support people with disabilities.

Kung fu instructor Alix McLaughlin described Kuehl as a caring man who seems to get along with everybody.

"He kind of has this superhero quality to him where he wants to make sure that everyone is safe and happy," she said.

Friends of the family say it's obvious Rose is committed to her son's career and that she's had a strong impact on his life.

"They negotiate - it's really awesome to see," said Brian Brinkman, owner of the House of Kung Fu Asian Arts Center of Olympia, and one of Kuehl's personal mentors. "I'm amazed at how strong the bond (is) between the two of them. It's kind of inspiring to see Dylan and his mom interact."

"She's the kind of mom we all wished we had," Sehmsdorf said. "I think a wonderful thing about his mom is that she said 'yes' to his dreams."

Kuehl has worked on several commissioned pieces. He also has a full line of greeting cards, T-shirts and prints of his watercolor and graphite paintings, which are sold at Traditions, online and at special events.

"I hate to brag, but the fact is, I'm one sick puppy for business," Kuehl said.

Rose said her son's success is the result of years of hard work, networking and advocating for her son's rights.

It hasn't been easy. Like many parents of children with special needs, Rose had to learn how to be pushy, at times, with governmental agencies. But it's been worth it. Her son is self-employed in a field he's passionate about.

"It's been a true collaboration of agencies, community (groups) and friends," Rose said.

Kuehl said he's glad business is going well, but adds that his work isn't just about money.

He donates a portion of the proceeds of his sales to the ARC of Washington and the Special Olympics. One of his goals is to have a Dylan Kuehl painting in every special education program in the state.

Like the St. Francis picture, each piece carries an important message - one that's from his heart.

"(It's) sending a message to the parents by telling the kids don't be afraid to show their abilities," Kuehl said, licking a tear that had rolled down his cheek. "Show the public - the world - what they can do, and most importantly, show the world how important they are."

"I want them to feel what I'm feeling," he added. "It's time for them to shine."

Lisa Pemberton writes for The Olympian. She can be reached at 360-704-6871.

Age: 23

Hometown: Olympia

Family: Single; mother Terri Rose; brother Birch, 26; and sister Shayna, 16

Education: Graduated from Capital High School in Olympia in 2002; attends South Puget Sound Community College

Hobbies: Art, dance, music and martial arts

About the series:

Each month, look in

The Olympian for an extended conversation with one of the people who make South Sound a unique place.

speaking up

On his favorite subjects to paint: "Mostly landscapes 'cause it gives me a field of vision, of open areas."

On why he loves art: "It cleanses my soul, as my mom always says. It helps me to throw my frustrations out."

On meeting his girlfriend at camp: "She had googly eyes at me - love at first site."

On his future plans: "Pretty soon, I'm going to have music for a career." if you go

What: An art show featuring paintings by Dylan Kuehl

When: Through the end of October. The show is open to the public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Meet the artist events will be from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sept. 18 and Oct. 23.

Where: Office of Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, 220 Legislative Building, 416 Sid Snyder Avenue S.W., Olympia

More information: To learn more about the artist and other upcoming events see www.dylankarts.com.

Copyright (c) The Olympian. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Gannett Co., Inc. by NewsBank, inc. Record Number: oly21206731

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