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Chet Cheesman Overcomes His Disability To Create Visual Art and Write His Autobiography

By Sandy Josephson

originally published: 07/21/2018

Chet Cheesman Overcomes His Disability To Create Visual Art and Write His Autobiography

(FRANKLIN TOWNSHIP, NJ) -- Question: “What happens when a mailman gets old?” Answer: “He loses his zip.” That’s one of several riddles programmed into Chet Cheesman’s augmentative communications device, and it’s a peek into his personality. 

Chet was born in 1974 with a rare genetic disorder called Lesch-Nyhan Disease, associated with high levels of uric acid in the blood, kidney involvement, and involuntary self-injurious behaviors. At age seven, he was admitted as a residential patient and student at the Matheny School and Hospital, a special hospital and special education school in Peapack, NJ, for children and adults with medically complex developmental disabilities. Twelve years later, Matheny began a program called Arts Access that enabled people with disabilities such as Chet to create fine art, assisted by professional artists who functioned as their facilitators.

From the very beginning of the program, Chet was enthusiastic about Arts Access. He was one of the earliest participants, creating paintings by rolling his wheelchair on a canvas and sculpting with clay. Today, he not only paints and sculpts but also writes poetry, prose, and drama, choreographs, and dances in his wheelchair.

“When I work,” he says, “I don’t know what I want to do ahead of time. I decide on everything at once. It’s much more fun that way.” But when Chet comes into the studio, says Joe Matousek, his visual arts facilitator, “he sets high standards for himself, and reaches them. He loves to paint and enjoys creating whimsical stories about friends and family. He loves doing splatter paint and really enjoys watching the colors mix right in front of him and how the paint reacts to the canvas.” 

Chet Cheesman Overcomes His Disability To Create Visual Art and Write His Autobiography

Chet’s sisters  -- Amber, who lives in Ringwood, NJ, and Heather, who lives in Bordentown  -- are amazed by his ability as an artist. “The Arts Access Program,” says Amber, “has been great for Chet. I’ve attended the annual Full Circle events, which celebrate the program, and I have enjoyed his poetry and a play he wrote.” Heather describes her brother as “an accomplished writer, artist, and actor -- and so much more. He truly is remarkable and never lets his physical challenges stop him.”



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In 2008, Chet created a painting called “Amber”, which, of course, is his sister’s “favorite piece of work.” It’s an acrylic on canvas with complementary hues of deep purple and burnt orange swirl that mesh and overlap to create an overall pattern of movement, sometimes resembling flowers. The painting has also been printed as a silk necktie, available for sale as part of Arts Access’ merchandise selection, which includes scarves, necklaces, mugs, and cards.

Chet’s visual art pieces have been shown in exhibits at such venues as the Rutgers Medical School in Newark, the Atrium Gallery in Morristown, NJ, and the Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, NJ.

In April 2017, Chet, who now lives at Matheny’s community residence in Franklin Twp., NJ, began working on his biography with writing facilitator Sonya Kimble-Ellis. During the 30-minute writing sessions, which are held twice a month, he uses his communications device or board. He also has some limited verbal ability and will sometimes verbally relay what he would like to have written. In addition, says Kimble-Ellis, “Chet has a picture book of family and life photos that he created with a staff member at Matheny’s Adult Learning Center in Hillsborough, NJ. We have been using that book as a reference for memories and milestones in his life.”

Chet Cheesman Overcomes His Disability To Create Visual Art and Write His AutobiographyChet’s motivation for writing the book, Kimble-Ellis adds, was to raise awareness about Lesch-Nyhan Disease. “He feels it’s important that more people are made aware of Lesch-Nyhan. Writing a biography about his life and his experiences with the disability is a perfect way to do that.”

So far, Chet has done an outline for the book and has been working on the first two chapters, which deal with his childhood, family, and discovering he had LND.

Before embarking on the biography, Chet wrote several short stories. One of them, “Aliens Go to Earth”, was adapted into a play and presented at Full Circle 2013: Reflections. Arts Access is also compiling a book of works by male writers in the program to be released later this year, and one of Chet’s stories will be included in that book.

Former Arts Access drama facilitator Burt Brooks, who is now a marketing and communications specialist for Easterseals New Jersey, recalls an earlier short story converted into a play by Chet titled “Dream House”. “It was about a retired cop dealing with the awful things he had seen and done,” says Brooks. “Although not explicit in the text, it reflected some of the things Chet had to deal with in his own life. Chet likes lots of stuff with cops, FBI, crime, investigative sorts of things.”

Kimble-Ellis says Chet still likes writing “adventurous, action-packed pieces, but he also likes humorous pieces. Chet enjoys laughter and likes making others smile, too. He is a hard worker, and his excitement for life comes through in his writing and the other art he creates.”

This year, Matheny (now known as the Matheny Medical and Educational Center) will be celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Arts Access Program at Full Circle 2018: Then and Now, to be held on November 3 in the Robert Schonhorn Arts Center on the Matheny campus in Peapack. The event will feature a visual art gallery exhibition of paintings and digital art created by Arts Access artists such as Chet and a stage presentation showcasing performance pieces by Arts Access dramatists, writers, and choreographers.

For more information on Full Circle or Arts Access, visit artsaccessprogram.org.

Chet Cheesman Overcomes His Disability To Create Visual Art and Write His Autobiography

Photos courtesy of the the Arts Access Program at Matheny​​​​​​​





The Walsh Gallery Presents "Seeing Red"
(SOUTH ORANGE, NJ) -- The Walsh Gallery at Seton Hall University’s South Orange campus presents “Seeing Red” from September 4 through October 20, 2018. The exhibit examines the many artistic, cultural, political and religious connotations of the color red using books, works on paper, religious items, textiles and artworks of various mediums.
Visual Arts Center of New Jersey Returns to the Summit Farmers Market in August
(SUMMIT, NJ) -- The Visual Arts Center of New Jersey and local artists will return to the Farmers Market in Summit after a successful outing that captivated attendees in July. During that outing, visitors to the Art Center’s tent were asked to participate in a shared vision board and were given instruction on how to create mandala drawings. On Sunday, August 19, from 8:00am–1:00pm, artists Nan Ring and Asha Ganpat will further engage the community in discussions about artistic process while creating and displaying original artwork.
BSB Gallery presents "Love Is The Message" an exhibit by Jamel Shabazz
(TRENTON, NJ) -- BSB Gallery presents "Love Is The Message" - an exhibit by Jamel Shabazz from August 9 through September 22, 2018.  The exhibit highlights the works of documentary, fashion, and street photographer Jamel Shabazz from 1980-2018. A special opening reception with the artist is planned for August 25th from 5:00pm to 9:00pm. Shabazz is also scheduled to conduct an Artist Talk on Saturday, September 8 from 3:00pm to 4:00pm. 
Ocean Galleries Welcomes Autumn de Forest Over Labor Day Weekend
(STONE HARBOR, NJ) -- Autumn de Forest has been professionally painting since she was five-years-old, has been called a child prodigy, artistic genius, and an outstanding role model, and has garnered accolades across the globe for her artwork and philanthropic passion, including an award from The Vatican. Ocean Galleries will welcome Autumn de Forest back to Stone Harbor over Labor Day weekend with an all new collection of paintings.
Monmouth Museum’s NJ Emerging Artists Series presents Michael P. Short: Intentional Drift
(LINCROFT, NJ) -- Michael P. Short will be a featured artist in Monmouth Museum’s New Jersey Emerging Artists Series, on exhibit at the Museum from August 17 – September 16, 2018. Short is a Monmouth Beach, New Jersey based artist who said Intentional Drift began with the forging of materials gathered from hikes and, exploring local beaches, many recovered in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.


Fossils And Boomers At Morris Museum
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“You learn something new every day…” Well, maybe not EVERY day but, while researching for JerseyArts.com features, I regularly learn something new. For example, I have known about Perkins Center for the Arts for a very long time. I’ve been to many exhibitions, participated in classes, and enjoyed several of the DeCafe Concerts over the years. But, prior to talking with Perkins’ Associate Director Diane Felcyn and Folklife Center Director, Karen Abdul-Malik (better known to many as Queen Nur), I had no idea that Perkins has a Folklife Center.
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​​​​​​​(BELMAR, NJ) -- New Jersey Stage magazine Issue 49 has been released with Garden State singer-songwriter Bruce Tunkel as its cover story.  The issue contains a mix of features on music, film, theatre, dance, comedy, and art.  It is available for free at www.NJArtsMag.com 
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Jersey native Anthony D’Amato is one of our favorite artists. His music has taken him around the world and when we saw some of his photographs, we asked if we could run them in the magazine. All of the photos shown here are available as fine art prints from his website: www.anthonydamatomusic.com/photography/ - visit our magazine version for several more photos from Anthony.
Can Camden Turn Lemons Into Lemonade?
On July 18, the City of Camden was named as one of the 14 finalists for the 2018 Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Public Art Challenge. The Challenge encourages mayors to partner with artists, elevating the value of including the creative sector when developing solutions to significant urban issues. The program supports temporary public art projects that celebrate creativity, enhance urban identity, encourage public-private collaborations, and strengthen local economies.

From Our Magazine

From Brooklyn To Around The World

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Jersey native Anthony D’Amato is one of our favorite artists. His music has taken him around the world and when we saw some of his photographs, we asked if we could run them in the magazine. All of the photos shown here are available as fine art prints from his website: www.anthonydamatomusic.com/photography/ - visit our magazine version for several more photos from Anthony.


Hoboken’s Field Colony

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Throughout history, artists have consistently helped revive downtrodden city areas into vibrant locations, bursting with life. Unfortunately their reward has often been rents too high for the artists to remain in the area.  And so they move out to a new city or area of a city and watch the process repeat.  Aaron Boucher and Laura Vaccarella opened Field Colony in November 2017 to help prevent the cycle from happening to artists in Hoboken.


2017 NJ Stage Award Winners!

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The NJ Stage Awards were create to promote places to experience the arts throughout the state. Initial voting takes place October 1-14 when the public gets the chance to vote on the full list of nominees. From there we tally the votes and create 10 finalists per category, based on a mix of the public vote and NJ Stage staff picks.  The public then votes on the finalists for the final 2 weeks of October. 


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The holiday season helps bring out the best in people.  For arts organizations and artists, this often means taking part in benefits.  Whether it is helping to raise money or food for the local food bank, collecting blankets or clothing for the homeless, toys for tots, or bringing attention to a blood drive,  art is an excellent way to bring attention to a cause.








Event calendar
Saturday, Aug 18, 2018


MUSIC

90s By Nature Dance Party @ House of Independents, Asbury Park - 10:00pm

BALLYHOO! @ The Saint, Asbury Park - 7:30pm

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists @ Asbury Lanes, Asbury Park - 9:00pm

THE GASLIGHT ANTHEM @ The Stone Pony, Asbury Park - 5:00pm

ZEBRA @ The Wonder Bar, Asbury Park - 9:00pm

Blake Shelton @ Hard Rock Live Etess Arena at Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Atlantic City, Atlantic City - 8:00pm

Legendary Beatles Recording Engineer Geoff Emerick @ The Vault at Victor Records , Berlin - 8:00pm


HAIR in Concert @ Axelrod Performing Arts Center, Deal Park - 10:00pm

AMERICAN IDOL: LIVE! 2018 @ Bergen Performing Arts Center (bergenPAC), Englewood - 7:30pm

Billy Walton Band with Joe D'Angelo @ Hopewell Theater, Hopewell - 8:00pm

REMEMBERING THE KING @ The Strand Theater, Lakewood - 7:00pm

Funky Feat @ The Levoy Theatre, Millville - 8:00pm

Fuel (20th Anniversary Tour) w/ Ropetree, New Theory @ Starland Ballroom, Sayreville - 6:00pm

Ronnie Penque’s Panama Dead @ Lizzie Rose Music Room, Tuckerton - 7:30pm







THEATRE

Saturday Night Fever @ Surflight Theatre, Beach Haven - 8:00pm

The Lion In Winter @ Cape May Stage, Cape May - 8:00pm

Fern Hill @ New Jersey Repertory Company, Long Branch - 3:00pm and 8:00pm

Bob Goss and his Silver Sizzles @ Broadway Theatre of Pitman, Pitman - 8:00pm

Shakespeare in the Park' Twelfth Night & Macbeth @ Various Bergen County Parks, Teaneck - 7:00pm



COMEDY

HASAN MINHAJ: BEFORE THE STORM @ Mayo Performing Arts Center (MPAC), Morristown - 7:00pm and 9:30pm

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