I have a story I am trying to share with everyone in a new book. It’s a story about a person long important in VSA’s history, and a friend of mine for the last forty years. His story begins like this:
He was newborn Saturday August 5, 1972, six feet even, 152 pounds, movie star handsome, but just as helpless as any newborn struggling for that first breath in a new world. Had he not been with friend Jerry when he made that fateful dive, there would not have been another breath.
He would have been a senior in just a few weeks at the vocational high school he attended for its commercial art program. He dreamed of a career as an artist, perhaps drawing caricatures at the local amusement park. It might not have been the loftiest of aspirations, but it paid better than mowing grass and had the distinct advantage of being done in the shade.
There were long periods of despair of which he can barely speak, especially during those first five months in the hospital. Worse than facing a lifetime of dependency, was the thought of a lifetime of servitude and burden for his family. Five more months in rehab followed when one day, a therapist forced a paintbrush between the fingers of his permanently clenched left hand. He was surprised when the paint went on the canvas smoothly. The art was still in him and his spirit was lifted.
Randy Souders did go on to become a highly successful professional artist, a rather amazing feat for any artist, never mind a seriously disabled one. He had a few breaks along the way not the least of which was the cover of the telephone book in Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth and San Antonio in 1985-86. Being a featured gallery artist with DisneyTM for the last twenty-nine years hasn’t hurt either.
A few years after the phone book, together with Dr. Darrell Shea, the medical director of the spinal center at Humana Hospital in Orlando, he organized the first juried museum show in the nation of art created exclusively by disabled artists at the Orlando Museum of Art.
It was there he first met Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith, President Kennedy’s sister and founder of VSA, who invited Randy to join the national organizations board of directors in Washington DC. He served on the VSA national board for fourteen years until it became a department within the Kennedy Center and that board dissolved. She devoted an entire chapter of her 1993 book “Chronicles of Courage” to Randy’s early career and his inspiring story.
As a board member, he traveled all over the country and the world as a VSA representative, speaking, giving press briefings and inspiring all who listened. There was a period in the mid-nineties when the Art Spark Texas organization had lost its managing director and was in danger of failing, so at the request of the national board, Randy took over as President of the Texas board.
“I met Celia Hughes in Los Angeles during the 1999 International VSA arts Festival (IVSAF), the largest and single most important VSA educational event. Held every five years, it attracts thousands of participants from all over the globe. She was based in Austin and had a history of running a 501(c)3 involved in providing disability services. She also had an existing board in place into which VSA could merge. She was interested in the job and I threw my support behind her candidacy. Thanks to her, she transformed Texas from a basket case into one of the top 2 or 3 VSA affiliates in the country.” –Randy Souders
Of course, Celia remains Art Spark Texas’ Executive Director to this day for which all Texans can be thankful.
I’m Steve Jewell, and my wife and I have been collecting Randy’s art since 1980. I am honored he has elected to let me share his amazing story with you. Together, we have been collaborating on the book since last summer and the complete story has and continues to surprise and inspire even me!
The manuscript is not complete yet, but if you are interested in our book and the detail of Randy’s amazing life and art, please leave your email and we’ll let you know when the book becomes available. Oh… and for those of you are accomplished at social media, please share our project with your network and friends.
Steve Jewell, Ph.D.