A brightly colored portrait of a smiling man and woman greets visitors to the main lobby of Jackson County Development Services in Medford.
Painted by area resident Karl Elwood, the portrait was purchased by county Commissioner C.W. Smith, who donated it to hang in the county offices at 10 S. Oakdale Ave.
"Public buildings tend to be kind of boring, very little color," Smith said during a small dedication ceremony for the piece Wednesday. "I just thought this would be a great place."
At $300, Smith considers the piece a good deal, and says the source of the art is a special one. Elwood works out of The Studio, a gallery run by Living Opportunities at 32 S. Central Ave., Medford.
The studio sponsors art-savvy folks with developmental disabilities. About 40 artists are regulars, refining their craft or taking classes from 2 to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. A variety of media hang there, from watercolors to oil paintings to abstract art. All pieces can be purchased by the public. Public viewing hours are from about 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
"It changes the way people in the community look at people with disabilities, and that's huge," said Roger Hassenpflug, Living Opportunities chief executive officer.
The nonprofit helps people with developmental disabilities find part-time work ranging from eight to 20 hours a week. More than 50 businesses employ more than 100 Living Opportunities clients, including Pasta Piatti, Medford Chamber of Commerce, the Grange Co-op and various landscaping firms.
"We want to bring somebody into the workplace," said Baylee LaVoie, business and donor relations manager. "We're about integration."
The group also helps clients get set up in residences and run The Studio.
Elwood, who was not available for comment, has done several pieces at The Studio. Most of his works are portraiture.
"I want people to appreciate the beauty of the human form," he said in an artist's statement that hangs by his painting.
Smith, an aspiring art teacher before he went to Vietnam, said he started buying pieces from Living Opportunities in 2004.
"It's a really neat deal," he said, adding that he hopes the tradition of commissioners purchasing art will continue when he steps down from office at the end of the year. Some of the artists in the program have had great success with their works. Artists Alex Iverson and Mieke Ryneal both had pieces that went on a national tour and hung in the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Kennedy Center.
"From little Medford," LaVoie said.
But Living Opportunities Development Director Jim Gochenour said commercial viability is not the artists' main focus.
"Just that somebody cared enough and likes their painting enough to purchase it makes them so happy," Gochenour said.
Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.