Stan Chidester sits in the front room looking at walls covered with his younger brother’s paintings. There are impressionistic watercolors, dramatic abstracts, and intricately executed montages. He looks at the walls, then at his brother sitting calmly in his wheelchair, and says, “Well, he’s 23 and has been into art most of his life. The past few years he’s started to get good. Maybe by the time he’s 24 …” He purposely lets the rest of the sentence trail away.
Brad, the artist, listens to his brother’s humorous critique with a half-smile on his face. Obviously, they know each other very well.
Stan goes on, “I’m his worst critic.” But later the older brother reveals that he has known for a long time how talented his brother truly is. “I have one of the paintings Brad did a long time ago. I was looking at it the other day. I think it’s still my favorite.”
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 11, 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. Brad’s thoughtfulness as a young boy proved that caring and concern are not limited to the physically able.
In high school, one of Brad’s art teachers introduced him to watercolors. That turned out to be Brad’s 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 the Sterling Scholar for Utah (a program for outstanding scholastic achievement) in visual arts. He studied graphic arts 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 two 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.” Not an unusual sentiment for someone Brad’s age no matter what their physical condition. Another step Brad is taking for himself is preparing 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.” 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 for him that helped and the things that hurt. Here are a few of Brad’s suggestions if you meet someone with a handicap.
“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.”
“The best way is when people talk with me. That’s the best way to learn how to act around someone with a handicap. Ask them.”