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Sticking up for Stickler Syndrome

In May of 2015, a Tyler newspaper quoted a then 19-year-old Hannah Werchan in a story about conquering challenges through visual and performance arts at her high school, All Saints Episcopal School.

In the article, Werchan said, “I have a passion for art. I feel like I could become something with it.”

Little did she know her art would take her somewhere as far as Washington D.C. Now, 22-year-old senior art major Werchan returns to TWU from D.C. being named first prize in the Kennedy Center’s VSA Emerging Young Artists Program, directed at young artists with disabilities.

As one of 15 prize-winners, Werchan was awarded $10,000 of the total $60,000 in awards. In addition to a cash prize, “Winning artwork will be exhibited in a year-long, nationally touring exhibition, and artists will attend an all-expenses-paid professional development workshop in Washington, DC.,” according to the Kennedy Center’s website.

The website also outlines that Detour, the national call for art, “challenges artists to embrace life’s detours, to seize and explore those spontaneous forays off the beaten path… We’re asking artists to consider what’s possible and to celebrate the marvelous and unexpected.” After sending in six pieces, an artist’s statement and extensive proof of her disability from her doctors, Werchan saw on the Kennedy Center’s website that she had moved on to the second round at the beginning of the summer. A few weeks later, she received an email congratulating her on being chosen as a winner.

Werchan’s winning piece, “Growth,” came from her current series “Stickler Syndrome”. Being born with hearing loss, legal blindness, a cleft palette and osteoarthritis, her progressive symptoms only continue to worsen. She uses her art to tell her story as she deals with Stickler Syndrome, a rare connective tissue disorder, every day. Her entire body is affected by the disorder in ways that have made it impossible for her to participate in sports or any typical physical activity, but allow her to turn to the fine arts.

“I couldn’t do a lot of that, so instead, I had to find other things to do. While all of my peers and classmates went to P.E., I’d go to the art room,” Werchan said. “I started early enjoying the arts, especially the visual arts, and then I just happened to take a class my junior year in high school, and I just fell in love with it then.”

As an art major with a concentration in painting and drawing, Werchan’s plan is to graduate this spring and immediately begin graduate school here at TWU. With her M.F.A., she wants to teach at the high school or university level.

“I really like educating. My disorder is very rare. Most of my doctors have never heard of it, so I had to educate a lot of my doctors,” Werchan said. “Being able to use art to educate is a really powerful dynamic medium to share, educate others, and raise awareness.”

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