If you walked into Stan Chidester’s living room, you would notice that the walls are covered with paintings—impressionistic watercolors, dramatic abstracts, and intricately executed montages. You would probably guess that Stan is a great fan of all this beautiful artwork. But you might not guess that Stan’s brother Brad—the very thin young man in the wheelchair moving about the room—is the artist!
Brad Chidester of Sandy, Utah, has been confined to a wheelchair most of his life with muscular dystrophy. As a child, he was the Utah state muscular dystrophy poster child. His artistic abilities were apparent from an early age. Like many little boys, he loved trucks. He was always doodling, and vehicles with wheels were his favorite subjects.
His love of drawing has given him a chance to cheer others and has helped him gain some interesting friends as well. When Brad was eleven years old, he was watching a car race on television. He was stunned to see a car crash and burn in the pits. One of the men severely injured was Derrick Walker, the manager of a racing team.
“I drew a race car and sent it to him in the hospital as a get-well card. After that, he sent me a thank-you letter. We’ve been friends ever since,” says Brad. That simple correspondence has blossomed into a special relationship. Since then, Walker and Roger Penske, another racing friend, have flown Brad and a guest to major races each year.
When Brad was in high school, one of his art teachers introduced him to watercolors. That turned out to be Brad’s favorite medium. “I loved it and just stayed with it,” said Brad. “Then one of the secretaries bought one of my landscapes. That got me really excited. I saw I could do something that could earn a little money.”
Brad went on to be named Utah’s Sterling Scholar in visual arts (an award for outstanding scholastic achievement in high school). He took some classes in graphic arts at a community college and began to have his work accepted for showing in galleries. Although he is still a struggling artist, the demand for his work is growing.
To keep track of ideas and things that interest him, Brad and his family take a camera wherever they go. He has someone take a picture of whatever catches his artistic eye. He has also expanded his style. For a long time, he drew realistically. Over the years, he has branched out. “I always thought anybody could do abstract art,” says Brad. “When you get into it, you realize how hard it is. Now it’s one of my favorite things to do.”
Brad is cared for and supported by his three older brothers and his father. His mother died a few years ago. Although he appreciates all his family does for him, when asked what one thing he would change about his life, Brad says, “I’d like to be more independent.” In that spirit, Brad is preparing himself to go to the temple.
Although Brad is a talented artist, he suffers his share of rejection. “I’ve had a lot of rejection letters from galleries,” says Brad. “But you can’t let that bother you. You have to keep going.”
Not only does he keep going, he also shares his success with others. Each year he donates paintings to the Muscular Dystrophy Association to be auctioned, with the money used in the fight against muscular dystrophy.
It’s obvious that Brad has discovered the secret to developing one’s God-given talents. He says, “If you’re really into something, pursue it to the fullest extent.” For a young man whose physical limitations would give him plenty of excuses not to try, he has taken his own advice. He is a true artist.
Brad remembers his high school days and the things people did that helped and the things that hurt. His suggestions might be useful the next time you meet someone with a disability.
“Some kids seemed afraid they would hurt my feelings, so they would just avoid me. I liked it when someone tried to get to know me.”
“Some people feel sorry for me and try too hard to be nice. I prefer it when they treat me like a regular person. Don’t be afraid; yet don’t go overboard.”
“It bothers me when kids are asking me questions and their parents shush them. Little kids are great.”
“I like it when people talk with me. That’s the best way to learn how to act around someone with a disability. Ask them.”