Local Artist Honored For Overcoming Disability With His Art

Gloucester Daily Times

Jon Sarkin has received a great deal of attention from the media in the past year, but his strangest experience was seeing his own face on a poster stuck to a light post in New York City last weekend.

“Right on Madison Avenue, there’s this picture of my face on a poster. Then my sister wants to take a picture, so I’m standing in front of my face on a poster and all these people are standing around (looking) like, ‘What’s going on?'” Sarkin said.

Sarkin, 53, of Rockport, traveled Friday to New York to accept $2,500 as one of four runners-up for the first Wynn Newhouse Award for artists with disabilities. Sarkin paints and sketches.

Eighteen artists were nominated for the award. The winner, Chicago’s Riva Lehrer, received $50,000. Lehrer is a faculty member at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and has spina bifida.

“I’m flattered and validated to be acknowledged. But it’s really bittersweet, if you think about the reason I got the award,” said Sarkin, referring to the 1987 stroke that changed his life.

Previously a chiropractor, Sarkin has struggled with a variety of physical and mental ailments since the stroke. His eyesight, balance and hearing were so severely affected that he had to give up chiropractics, but the emotional disorder brought on by the brain lesions was even more difficult to resolve.

It was only through returning to his childhood interest in art that Sarkin was able to find a new purpose in his life.

“Before my stroke, art was one of many things I could do,” he said recently. “After the stroke, (art) was all I had left.”

Sarkin lives in Rockport with his wife, Kim, and their three children.

The New York poster bearing Sarkin’s image was a coincidence. Lanesville photographer Rob Amory’s work is showing at the Janos Gat Gallery on Madison Avenue and the poster with Sarkin’s picture was an advertisement for Amory’s show.

Sarkin accepted his prize Friday at a reception at the Park Avenue home of art collector Wynn Newhouse, who established the award to raise awareness of the important contributions made by artists with disabilities. Sarkin said yesterday that Newhouse is in the advanced stages of multiple sclerosis.

Newhouse is the son of publishing magnate Samuel “Si” Newhouse Jr., the chairman of Conde Nast Publications.

“The people (at the reception) were all faculty at art schools, people who have Fulbright scholarships and Guggenheim (Foundation grants), and I’m realizing that I’m part of this club,” Sarkin said.

Sarkin attended the reception with his sister, Jane Sarkin, editor of Vanity Fair magazine. After the event, they walked down Madison Avenue, first stopping in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and later unexpectedly finding the poster bearing his image.

In his Gloucester studio yesterday, Sarkin sat with a canvass on his lap in his basement studio, drawing as usual.

In the past year, Sarkin’s work has been shown locally and at galleries in Los Angeles. Reader’s Digest has covered his story, a British documentary team came to Cape Ann to follow him for three days, and he was recently featured on WCVB’s “Chronicle” show.

“The good news: I can still win (the $50,000 next year.) But (Lehrer) really deserved to win it more than I did,” Sarkin said.