Communication is part of everything we do, whether it’s school, work or play. There are as many different brands of communication as there are people, and for Shawnie Peck, a sophomore at MCC-Maple Woods, it’s art.
A lifetime native of Lawson, Mo., Shawnie was diagnosed with autism when she was four years old, and didn’t utter a word until she was almost five. Her parents worked with her throughout her childhood, through school and even through college at Maple Woods, where she is working on a certificate in graphic design.
Shawnie’s passion for art is often combined with her other passion: horses.
“I love horses – they’re such beautiful animals. I’ve been around them most of my life. My mother was a team roper herself, so I guess you could say I’ve been around them since the womb.”
Her love for horses inspires much of her art, both photography and her mixed-media creations. She photographs horse shows around the area, including the American Royal, and creates artwork depicting her favorite subjects with everything from watercolors to chalk pastels to sticks.
One of her most prized pieces is called “Little Bird.” Created from sticks, vines and other “found” objects, Little Bird is a sculpted horse that stands about three feet tall and four feet long. Shawnie was inspired to create Little Bird by her mother, who is also a sculptor, and one of her artist mentors Debra Butterfield, who specializes in creating with found objects. Aside from allowing Shawnie to explore yet another medium to communicate her love of horses, it also served as a bit of art therapy for her when times were difficult.
“It was wonderful stress-relief when I really needed it,” she said. “My grandfather was ill and I was having troubles with school, and Little Bird was there.”
Little Bird won first place at Maple Woods’ Student Art Exhibition last year and was even displayed at the Kansas City Zoo’s “Scraps to Sculpture” art exhibit. He now resides at home with Shawnie, where she continues to make small tweaks whenever she sees fit.
Shawnie doesn’t shy away from more traditional art mediums, however.
Her other favorite project is a series of drawings based on “War Horse,” a Broadway adaptation based on Michael Morpurgo’s book about the horses (and men) who fought in World War I. Shawnie and her mother traveled to New York to see the play, which is performed with life-sized horse puppets among the actors. Many of Shawnie’s pieces feature these puppets contrasted with live horses.
Shawnie will be continuing her artistic endeavors this summer, working with her mother to teach a painting and drawing class at Watkins Mill Park Camp, where they will work with troubled youth. Beyond the summer, there is, of course, more art in Shawnie’s future, as she work to improve her technique on figures that are decidedly more human.
Sharing her faith and her art is a big part of Shawnie’s life - she recently completed a very personal piece of artwork for friends of her family, the Gilhams. The Gilhams lost a daughter, Emma, 11 years ago, and Shawnie completed a series of drawings of their other two daughters, combining them to create a vision of Emma.
“Eventually, I want to be able to include all of my family members in my artwork, and be able to give them gifts,” she said. “It’s a mixture of all the things that are important to me.”