Art provides local teen with his own voice

August 23, 2013
Daniel Gagnier, center, poses with his mother Denise, right, his self-portrait, far right, and a family friend at Paris in Plantsville in Southington.

Daniel Gagnier, center, poses with his mother Denise, right, his self-portrait, far right, and a family friend at Paris in Plantsville in Southington.

From the time Southington resident Daniel Gagnier was 12 years old, accomplishing tasks that involve the use of his fine motor skills and speech became difficult. At the age of eight, doctors diagnosed the teen with Rasmussen’s Encephalitis, a rare disease that involves constant seizures, loss of motor skills, and speech. His seizures became so severe that he underwent surgery at the age of 12, and the right side of his body became paralyzed. Despite his struggle with the rare disease, the 19-year-old has exemplified strength through his own artwork.
“It’s just something he can do and be proud of,” said Daniel’s mother Denise.
Daniel’s work of art began earlier this year when he received a postcard in the mail from Gaylord Hospital in Wallingford. The postcard featured the artwork of a woman who overcame her traumatic brain injury by creating self-portraits. Denise encouraged Daniel to bring the postcard to school where he could practice his own drawings. Daniel’s teachers at Southington High School encouraged him to do the same.
“Dan has his sketch pad at all times,” said Barbara Angiletta, one of Daniel’s art teachers. “He is very self-driven.”
Over the course of the school year, Daniel created his own self-portrait, taking the time to create each stroke with his left hand. Nancy Chiero, a transition coordinator at the high school, said she was in awe when she saw the completed masterpiece. When she saw an advertisement in the newspaper about a contest for artists with disabilities at Paris in Plantsville Art Gallery in town, Chiero knew this was an opportunity for Daniel to let his work shine through.
“Daniel has come alive,” Chiero said. “He is an inspiration to all of us.”
When the judges announced Daniel as the first prize winner, Denise said she was ecstatic. She also said the contest brought her son joy as well as a sense of fulfillment.
“He was all smiles,” she said. “He feels like a man now.”
One of the judges, Sean Dudley, said Daniel’s self-portrait spoke to him.
 “The fragmented portions of the compositions were symbolic of what might be his life or even someone else’s life that may have similar life experiences that are faced with overcoming personal hurdles successfully,” he said.
Daniel’s self-portrait is not the only work of art he created. His artistic journey began a few years ago and since then, Daniel has experimented with different forms of art including painting, landscape portraits, and photography. All it takes is once glance at a picture, and Daniel can emulate every stroke just through memorization. Daniel’s mother said she looks forward to her student’s artistic future.
“It amazes me what he can do with one hand,” Denise said. “He’s going places and will go further.”
As the years have passed, Denise has seen Daniel come out of his shell. Although he still struggles with certain everyday tasks, Denise said her son has shown improvements in his speech and also in dressing himself.
“He’s been speaking more, drawing more, and he is always on the computer looking for a picture to sketch,” she said.

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