Multiple Sclerosis Victim Uses Art To Mold New Lifestyle

October 07, 1990|By Dolly Merritt

The link between Julie van Hemert and Adam Malinda began as one kind of nourishment and has grown into another.

Van Hemert, a Meals on Wheels volunteer for nearly a decade, has delivered dinner every Tuesday for four years to Malinda, a multiple sclerosis sufferer who spends most of his waking hours in a wheelchair.

But over the last eight months, van Hemert has been feeding Malinda in another way: She has served as his mentor in sculpture, bringing him books and magazines about the art, sharing her expertise and encouraging him in the craft.

"About eight months ago, I started playing with clay and made some pots; then I started making busts," Malinda said.

When another resident in his Columbia apartment building had set up a work area in the recreation room of the complex, Malinda's interest in the clay pots was piqued.

"I wanted to do something with my time -- so much of it is wasted," he said.

When van Hemert, 45, saw his work, she encouraged him and shared her knowledge. The Ellicott City woman, a member of the New Arts Alliance, has been doing figurative sculpting for 12 years.

As a result of her expertise and Malinda's sculpting interest, now whenever Malinda looks at people, he notices their facial planes -- a telltale sign of an artist.

"When you are working with clay, it takes a long time," the 62-year-old Columbia man said. "You need to build it up, wait for it to dry and then fill in the cracks before you are finished," he said. But Malinda is a patient man.

Occasionally the artist has had to start all over again, like the time he had to remake a neck that was too thin.

Because his fingers are weak from disease, additional frustrations sometimes occur when working with clay. But he has devised alternative methods. "I use a base of coils for strength and an inner structure of paper that is covered with thin shells of clay to bring out the face and features," he said. "Then I hope for the best."

So far, the artist has completed five works. Two of them were sold on the opening day of Malinda's first exhibit.

That show was the six-week "Emerging Artists," co-sponsored by the New Arts Alliance and the Board of Education. Held in the Professional Gallery of the Board of Education office building, the show included works from 12 emerging artists in the area. Each budding artist had a seasoned artist as a mentor, providing expertise and individual support.

"We were so thrilled to realize that both works were sold to two different people on the opening night of the exhibit," said van Hemert, who served as Malinda's mentor.

"Thank goodness I was able to do it; I'm grateful I can still do things," Malinda said.

He attributes part of his success to "the goodness of people who were willing to help." The list is long -- from the manager of the apartment building who has allowed him to work at a table in the recreation room -- in spite of the clay that gets tracked onto the carpet from his wheelchair -- to Jeanne Haines, who takes Malinda's work to the Florence Bain Senior Center in Columbia to be kiln-fired.

The name "Portrait of Understanding," given to one of his pieces, was inspired by that kind of assistance -- Florence Bain center ceramic teacher Jessie Johl spent several hours firing that particular bust so that it would be finished for the exhibit.

"She was there; she did what needed to be done; she understood," Malinda said.

Malinda's gratefulness seems to transcend all that has happened since he was diagnosed at the age of 40 with multiple sclerosis.

"I was an electrical engineer, a husband and father of two children; there was never any time for extracurricular activities," he said.

But his busy lifestyle ground to a halt when the disease, which can cause partial or complete paralysis, forced Malinda to retire early on disability from the National Security Agency.

Malinda spent four years in a nursing home. A wheelchair gave him mobility.

"I did everything I could to get out of there," he said, adding that he attended concerts and other community events whenever he could. "It's a different atmosphere outside a nursing home -- the air is even different," Malinda said.

While in the nursing home, Malinda strove to keep busy by chatting with visitors in the lobby, tutoring eighth-grade students in algebra and geometry, and working in the payroll department of the nursing home during the summer.

But Eve Richardson, a friend from the nursing home, believed that Malinda could live independently. She helped him find his current apartment.

"All I needed was an electric bed and someone to help me get out of it in the morning," he said. He acquired the bed; a neighbor assists him.

That taken care of, Malinda is busy again getting on with his life.

He has a positive philosophy: "The bad things you forget about. I try to look at only the good things."

The sculptor spends mornings in his makeshift studio downstairs, where a mud-stained table is scattered with ice cream tubs full of clay and a can holding sculpting tools.

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