Artist Communicates Through Art With Young Amputee

Without a common language, but with the shared experience of being an amputee, Francillon Chery of Haiti and Sarah Czapp of Wheeling communicate through play and art.

During an extended stay in Wheeling, Chery, an amputee soccer player and artist, visited Sarah, age 2 1/2, at her family’s home last Monday. Within minutes, the gentle athlete-artist and the sweet toddler were playing a little soccer and creating art together.

Sarah and her family met Chery at the July 3 opening of his art exhibition at Stifel Fine Arts Center in Wheeling. Jocelyn Czapp, Sarah’s mother, said, “They invited us to come down so Sarah could meet him and kick a soccer ball around. It was really cool. We felt really honored to be invited. It was really neat.”

Arrangements were made for Chery to visit the Czapps’ home to teach Sarah to paint. “It’s amazing because he (Chery) speaks very little English,” Jocelyn Czapp said.

“Their connection when they were doing the art was amazing,” Jocelyn Czapp said. “He was so open and so caring. He was helping her with her brush strokes. It was just the coolest experience we got to have in our house. They were communicating with each other, in their own special language.”

Sarah’s mom added, “Mr. Chery told her she had a natural brush stroke and was very talented. She was just so into him. She was just mesmerized by what he was doing.”

When Chery creates art with children with disabilities and special needs in Haiti, they make a footprint or handprint on paper and he paints around it, transforming the outline of a foot into a butterfly, for instance.

While visiting the Czapps, “at one point, he put her (Sarah’s) foot on one of the paintings,” her mom related. “She crawled over and got one of her dolls and wanted him to put paint on the doll’s foot. He did.”

The result was a double foot painting. “He (Chery) was giggling and laughing. It was a really neat experience,” Jocelyn Czapp said. Since that time, Sarah has been carrying her doll, which still has a trace of paint on its foot, and saying, “I paint with her. I paint with Mr. Chery.”

After painting, the Haitian athlete and the toddler went outside with a soccer ball. “They were playing around,” her mom said. “She was a little hesitant at first. He was kicking with her brothers. Then she was picking up the ball and throwing it.”

Describing Chery’s art exhibition, Jocelyn Czapp said, “My husband and I saw it before we took our kids in. We were so humbled and in awe of what he could do. It was so beautiful. He puts so much emotion on that canvas. You could see how much love he had for his art … It is amazing … He is just so talented and to think he did that to mask his phantom pain, to divert his mind from it. My daughter’s phantom pain was so terrible. She was 1.”

Inspired by her new friend, little Sarah wants to play soccer, do music and paint, her mother said.

“She really has the heart and soul to do that. She’s a go-getter. She’s changed a lot of people’s lives in 2 1/2 years. She’s touched a lot of people. We’ve been blessed as parents to basically sit back and watch that,” Jocelyn Czapp commented.

Sarah has a prosthesis and works with arm crutches. When she met Chery, he wasn’t wearing his prosthetic leg and was using crutches, too. The toddler recognized their similarities and remarked, “Mom, he like me, he not have no leg,” her mother related.

“Watching him made me know that nothing is going to stop her,” Jocelyn Czapp remarked.

“She’s going to do whatever she sets her heart and mind to. It opened my husband’s and my eyes to so many opportunities for her.”