Zalman Wircberg faced a dilemma: He had no idea who or what to showcase at the Old City Jewish Art Center in February.
“I put it out there to God,” said Wircberg, director of OCJAC, “everything will happen in the right time, the right place.”
Time passed through February, up until the Super Bowl. During a party, his wife asked him to run to the supermarket for some last-minute ingredients.
“If I had not left that Super Bowl party and then waited at the Inglis House bus stop to return home that evening, I wouldn’t have met Ty, who was sitting outside that evening in his special wheelchair at the bus station,” he recalled. “He said he was very, very down and looking for a sign.”
Ty Klug called that meeting “serendipity.”
“I saw him there and something drew me to him,” Klug remembered. “He and I began to talk, and he told me that he runs an art gallery. I thought to myself, ‘What a natural fit.’”
Klug is an artist who also has primary progressive multiple sclerosis (MS). He showed his work in a gallery in his native Michigan for six years prior to his diagnosis.
Klug took Wircberg on a grand tour of Inglis House, a home for adults with disabilities where he lives. Wircberg discovered that Klug’s art adorns the walls of many floors.
After talking to Klug, Wircberg decided to showcase his work.
“To meet the rabbi was just a reaffirmation that I’m on the right path,” Klug said. “Things are falling into place for me.”
OCJAC will host Klug’s work through Feb. 28, alongside pieces by his friend and art teacher, Rhoda Kahler.
Kahler will include 24 pieces, mostly “sculptural ceramic relief tiles on panel,” while Klug’s work includes paintings and mixed media pieces.
There will also be an artists’ reception Feb. 23 from 5:30 to 8 p.m.
Kahler has been the artist-in-residence at Inglis House for six years, teaching art classes every Monday in printmaking, drawing and painting.
“I know them all. I know their birthdays,” she laughed at how close she’s become to the residents. “I’m Facebook friends with them. They’ve become friends over the years. And these people are just normal people; they just got dealt a hand with these disabilities.”
Kahler met Klug three years ago when he moved from Grand Rapids to Inglis House in Philadelphia specifically for the art program.
Klug, who Kahler called a “comedian on wheels,” attends Kahler’s class every week.
Kahler said his art has been evolving with his disability as he is losing his motor skills. She tries to find methods that are adaptable for people’s disabilities, like for Klug’s tremors. She encourages him to paint more abstractly than the fine-tuned pencil portraits he used to do.
“You think about it during the week. You think about it all the time, about altering the way they hold a paintbrush or using Velcro and foam to strap a paintbrush in their hand because they can’t grip and hold things anymore,” she said. “In the end, it gives them more confidence, and confidence is huge for anyone.”
Klug has his own art studio at Inglis House — an entire corner of the art room.
“He has a very broad spectrum of living an artful life,” Kahler said. “He jumps in — I can talk to him as a peer in class. … Sometimes we’ll end up doing something together, a collaboration, at the end of class when there’s leftover paint and everyone’s starting to leave, we will take the extra paint and do a work together. We’ll go back and forth: I’ll make a stroke then he’ll make a stroke.”
This is Klug’s first major art show since he’s been in Philadelphia.
Before being diagnosed with MS in 2005, Klug was an executive chef, creating “art with food.” He also painted, drew and wrote poetry — and still does, of course.
“I was running a kitchen, so it was long hours anyway, but I was hurting,” he recalled. “I didn’t know what was going on. The confusion was more to blame than anything for the fear that came with the diagnosis.”
Doctors weren’t sure what was wrong at first.
“I was 25 years old. I had never felt more alive. I had this sense of invincibility, of being the king of the world. I was awesome, but I still am because I’m still me, the authentic self inside of this shell, the soul is still intact,” he said. “The problems of the body are not the problems of the soul. I can remain hopeful because I remain hopeful.”
The now 36-year-old self-proclaimed “paintoholic” said he gets his inspiration simply from life.
“It’s around me and happening constantly,” he said. “God, no matter what religion you believe in, is an inspiration.”
Klug, who is not Jewish or religious in any form, says he does not want to invest in any one religion over another, joking that he doesn’t want to “offend any deity.”
“My position has gifted me the opportunity to show the resilience of the human spirit,” he countered. “To bottle that up would be asinine. I need to share it. I need to pass the word along.”
Klug mainly uses acrylic paint because it dries quickly — and he’s impatient.
“Nowadays my art has changed,” he said. “I end up looking for things that appear in my art. I will go abstract and then just feel out a piece to discover the images that are captured within it. I try to help free them in some ways. I find art in my art. I look at it for a little bit and I fall in love with it in a new way.”
He’s found many faces in his work, though none too familiar.
“I discover myself in the way that those images flow through me and assert themselves onto a page,” he said. “I get hooked and I can’t stop.”
Klug added that this gallery showcase is rewarding to him — and no shortage of hard work.
“I’m excited to be able to display my work again. It’s a real feeling of accomplishment, a sense I rarely get anymore because of my disease,” he said. “I am wheelchair-bound and my hands shake. So my art has evolved. I used to be so focused on detail and every little thing had to be in order, so now my art is very liberating. It’s freeing for me to study the interplay between colors, to begin to know color and form in a new way.
“For me to be back in a gallery, it’s like my heart is being set free again. It’s a chance for me to tell my story. I have been given a gift for being able to create artwork and share that story with people.”
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