Arts & Culture: A Very Special Artist

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Bernadette Resha Proves Disability is No Barrier

Bernadette Resha of Gallatin is a woman of many talents. She loves creating art. Her vivid nature scenes – crafted slowly, deliberately, stroke by stroke – are currently available at Worthington Galleries in Gallatin.

Aside from being an acclaimed artist, Bernadette is an accomplished violinist, model, television and movie actress, winning athlete, national spokesman, and she’s performed magic on stage for thousands.

She was also born with Down syndrome, and at thirty-eight, continues to defy shortsighted doctors who said she would never live a meaningful life.

“My art makes me feel proud,” says Bernadette.

Down syndrome, caused by a chromosomal abnormality, comes with decreased motor and cognitive skills along with increased risk for heart defects, respiratory and hearing problems. The life expectancy for a person with Down’s was twenty-five in 1983, according to the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) website, ndss.org. Today, it is sixty.

Prior to 1975, it was not mandated that children born with Down syndrome be educated. Quality education, better healthcare, and living in a stimulating environment have dramatically improved the life of people born with Down syndrome in recent decades, according to the NDSS.

There were very few resources and little support available for Gwenn and Louis Resha when their daughter was born in 1978. Doctors painted a bleak picture of what Bernadette’s future would look like.

“Medical professionals treated her like she was contagious,” says Gwenn Resha, Bernadette’s mother. “They told me to put her in an institution and quickly have another baby; they said she would never be able to do anything.” Gwenn and Louis didn’t take doctors’ advice. Beginning from the day they brought her home from the hospital, they took her out in public and focused on creating educational opportunities for their daughter.

When Bernadette began showing interest in the arts as a toddler, they encouraged her to draw and enrolled her in violin classes.

“I expected her to do things like any other kid,” Gwenn says. “If she proved she couldn’t do something then that was okay, but I expected her to try.”

Bernadette not only exceeded expectations, but surprised everyone when she excelled in many activities. She continued playing the violin in her teens and was on the swim team at Hillsboro High School, where she consistently won relay races.

When Bernadette discovered she liked the stage in her teens, she began studying drama. Her interest resulted in an invitation to perform with a Nashville magic troupe made up of illusionists with intellectual disabilities, Merlin and the Court Jesters. As part of the troupe, Bernadette gave more than 275 performances in front of more than 55,000 people.

“Magic is something you do for make-believe. You don’t tell the magic. It’s like acting,” Bernadette says.

Performing gave Bernadette the acting bug. She appeared in the 1997 film Gummo and has since appeared in television shows, commercials and a music video. She also served as a paid national spokesman for Easter Seals and the Special Olympics.

“I would still like to do more acting, more drama. I want to be a movie star on the red carpet,” Bernadette says.

A Flourishing Art Career

While she loves having an audience, her passion is painting. She has taken art classes from Pam Francis in Franklin for five years. Her art career took off after she was invited to participate in a small art show at Green Hills Mall in 2002.

The organizers said, “Make sure she knows she’s not going to sell anything,” Gwenn recalled. “She was the only one that sold anything that day.”

From there, Bernadette’s work was in demand. She began doing three to four art shows a month. “She was a top seller. She always sold out,” says her father Louis Resha.

Galleries across the country came calling to exhibit Bernadette’s work. Bernadette received more attention when one of her paintings appeared nationwide on a Diet Pepsi can promoting Best Buddies International. Locally, Bernadette’s work is currently on display at Worthington Galleries in Gallatin.

Inspired by Nature

When it comes to her art, Bernadette takes inspiration from nature. She enjoys painting scenes of the outdoors, plants and animals. Butterflies and flowers are her favorite.

Bernadette paints every day. Because Down syndrome limits hand-eye coordination, it takes her much longer than most artists to complete a piece. On average, she’ll work on a painting for at least a month, and up to three months on more complicated pieces.

She enjoys experimenting with different mediums, she said. She’s currently painting more with watercolors and learning techniques with pottery and glass.

Her goals for the future include becoming more independent and living on her own again.

Bernadette knows that, because of Down syndrome, certain things in life challenge her more than others. Yet through her faith and the arts, she’s gained self-confidence that’s helped her manage those challenges.

“God made me with Down syndrome. He gave me very special things to make me more independent,” Bernadette says. “I want to keep doing my art because God wants me to be happy.”

ART BY BERNADETTE RESHA

To see Bernadette’s art, visit
Worthington Galleries
112 Public Square, Gallatin
Monday-Fridays 9am-6pm
Saturdays 10am-3pm
615.527.7970
worthingtongalleries.com

Learn more about the artist at: bernadetteresha.com

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