He likes to trace pop cans and popsicle sticks on poster board, then add bright primary colors with marker to create abstract patterns.
Keys, 52, lives in a group home in Sandusky where he shares responsibilities with others. He loves cooking, country music and Burger King.
The extra money he earns from his artwork and piece work at Double S Industries usually buys more art supplies, he said.
His drawings decorate the walls of the center for adults with developmental disabilities, but they also hang in homes and offices around the county.
Lisa Guliano, superintendent of the Erie County Board of Developmental Disabilities, said she gets requests for his work.
Double S Industries assistant director Laura LaGodney also uses reproductions of his art on postcards, greeting cards and awards, displaying them through a program known as Artists with Aptitude.
“Not only is he getting the satisfaction of doing something creative, but he’s also getting paid to sell it,” LaGodney said.
More programs serving adults with developmental disabilities have added art classes in recent years, particularly as manufacturing jobs continue to disappear.
Artists with Aptitude is a collaboration between the developmental disabilities boards in Erie and Huron counties. The program features a juried exhibit each year at Kalahari.
Keys’ work won “Best in Show” in a 2008 judging that featured more than 100 exhibitors throughout the region.
As the manufacturing sector continues to decline, programs that serve adults with disabilities have found there’s not always enough work to go around.
Art is a creative outlet that teaches a skill they can use to bring in some extra cash, LaGodney said. At Christie Lane School in Norwalk, artist Lynda Stoneham runs the Artist Open Studio, a nonprofit designed to help artists of all abilities create and sell their work.
Adults at Christie Lane Industries also make customized tiles that are as beautiful as they are useful. Many of the pieces contain crushed glass recycled at Christie Lane.
“It is an incredible success story,” Huron County Board of Developmental Disabilities superintendent Dee Zeffiro-Krenisky said in a recent newsletter. “Our individuals with disabilities have embraced the work. It gives them the opportunity to be creative and entrepreneurial.”
Artists have come and gone in Erie County’s program since it started in 2007, but Keys has been the glue holding it together— the “resident artist,” as his supervisors call him.
They teach him new techniques and work with him to keep his desk organized. But the rest is up to him.
“Mark is very persistent and determined to keep doing his artwork,” LaGodney said. “He has a Picasso-type flow, that abstractness — you can’t teach that.”