Silenced by cerebral palsy, painter and poet Jessica Vohs communicates with considerable effort – and a passion stirred by her love of beauty.
Jack Thomas, "Speaking from the Art," The Boston Globe Magazine
the Early Years
Jessica Emma Vohs, born in 1971 with cerebral palsy, is a practicing artist in Brookline, MA. Despite severe disabilities that affect her movement and ability to communicate, Jessica has been exhibiting and selling her work since 1995.
Jessica’s inability to speak coupled with her physical disabilities presented nearly insurmountable barriers to her being able to receive an academic education. When she was 21 years old, after intensive advocacy efforts by staff members of the Federation for Children with Special Needs, Jessica was finally admitted to classes at her local high school.
During and after high school, Jessica continued to fight to be a part of typical life experiences. Again, after vigorous advocacy to be included, Jessica was admitted to City Year in 1994 as a member of the inaugural class of AmeriCorps. Once she had completed her year of service, Jessica used her stipend to take classes the Massachusetts College of Art and Design (Boston, MA) and, after a childhood filled with art, received her first formal training as an artist.
AN Artist is Born
In the late 1990s, Jessica began to study with Professor Kaji Aso, a professor from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. Because of Jessica’s disability, many had underestimated her intelligence. But Professor Aso recognized Jessica’s innate ability to use art to convey a deeper sense of herself, and he took her under his direct supervision.
Over the years, Aso’s studio opened many doors for Jessica: she worked in a multitude of media, including ceramics, watercolor, oil, giclee prints, and textile paintings. In February 1999, Jessica began studying with Kate Finnegan, a long term student of Mr. Aso. With Kate, Jessica continued to practice Japanese watercolor and write poetry.
Over the years, Jessica’s artistic accomplishments have been noticed with a number of awards, including the Community Palette 2000 Certificate for Artistic Achievement, Mass. Department of Mental Retardation, “Going the Distance and Making a Difference” – an award from the Arc of Northern Bristol County, and an Arc Massachusetts Distinguished Citizens’ Award in 2002. In April 2004, The Boston Globe profiled Jessica. Speaking From the Art, documented both Jessica’s personal and artistic persistence and achievements.
Over the years, Jessica has had the opportunity to study with many teachers. Theresa Harris, a graphic designer and fiber artist, introduced her different approaches to fabric-painting. These techniques became pivotal to her practice as symptoms of Cerebral Palsy progressed.
In 2007, severe contractions in her left arm required surgery which severe nerve damage and left Jessica unable to continue with watercolor painting. At that point, Jessica began hand-painting silk and velvet scarves, and continued to make art with assistance.
Today, Jessica lives in her own apartment in Brookline where she continues to study and practice art with Michal Rebibo, a practicing artist, as well as a professor of art therapy. With Michal, Jessica has been pursuing shibori techniques and watercolor painting.
Jessica regularly donates her scarves and shirts to disability advocacy organizations for fundraising, and has been honored to have several advocacy organizations use her designs and paintings to promote her work, as well as commission new works from her.