The urge to create welled up in Annie Young and wouldn’t be suppressed.
Not even when she lost her ability to see.
All her life, the Burnsville artist’s mind was a fertile spring of ideas. She used her creativity to make quilts, handmade note cards and clothes for her children.
But 17 years ago, she lost her sight from a hereditary condition called cone dystrophy. Depressed and angry, she sold all her art supplies. A friend tried to reassure her, telling Young that she could still make art. She even brought Young a used canvas and tubes of paints.
“I would shoo her away,” Young said. “I thought she didn’t understand.”
But the friend didn’t give up.
She kept dropping by Young’s home, asking her what she’d made. After one particular visit, an angry Young hurled the canvas and paints at the door. The paint splattered everywhere.
“You could just hear it making a huge mess,” Young recalled.
The next morning, she went to clean up the mess. Her hands reached a hard, crusty residue. She ran her fingers across it. It was dried paint.
“It was my aha moment,” she said.
She realized that to paint again, all she had to do was squeeze out the paint and let it dry. Then she could let her fingertips and her mind’s eye guide her. It would be like making topographical maps.
Without her sight, Young needed to come up with a way to know where on the canvas she was painting.
“It was a test in patience, and I wasn’t a very patient person,” she recalled. “But I’m a persistent person.”
She took cardboard and cut it into different shapes. She used the shapes, painter’s tape and other tactile materials placed on the canvas as her guide.
“All these different ways that I would just keep testing out led me to where I am today, where I don’t need to use as many of those physical guidelines,” Young explained. “Because I’m now used to the size of the canvases that I’m painting.”
In addition to her fingertips, she uses her forearms, her hands and sometimes a brush and a palette knife to paint.
Coming up with ideas for her paintings is easy, she said.
“I’m very blessed,” she said. “I have so many picture images that are in my head, it’s unbelievable. Sounds, smells, memories, my interactions with people, faith — those are all triggers.”
Since then, she’s become a prolific and accomplished painter, creating more than 200 pieces. Her work has been displayed in art shows across the country and in Canada and Mexico.
And now, Young has her first solo art exhibit in her hometown. Called “Reign of Color,” the exhibit runs through Sept. 23 at the Ames Center in Burnsville. For details, go to: ames-center.com.
Through her art, Young, 54, hopes to communicate a larger message. She wants people to know the story of a woman who overcame a seemingly impossible challenge.
It’s a lesson she hopes others will apply to overcoming their own obstacles.
“Whatever it is, I want them to walk away with hope that they can do it, that they can find a way.”