In the spring issue of Chip and Joanna Gaines’ quarterly magazine, “Magnolia Journal,” readers met Sevy Marie Eicher, a 16-year-old artist with Down Syndrome, through an interview with her mother Lisa. Sevy was born in Bulgaria, and became a ward of the state when she was four. Before Lisa and her husband Joey adopted Sevy at age 12, she lived in various orphanages and other institutions.
Lisa told Magnolia Journal about seeing Sevy’s picture on a Bulgarian orphanage’s website. “I just knew that she was meant for us and that we were meant for her. I saw lots of other orphans’ faces and felt heartbreak for them and wished I could help them all, and her picture wasn’t the one that would’ve stood out to anybody, but I saw in her eyes that she was my daughter.”
Back in the United States, Lisa, Joey, and their three other children would learn that Sevy was almost completely nonverbal, and that she “was used to having to fight for everything in her life – food, toys, anything. She came to us with a lot of baggage, and she and I (Lisa), especially, really struggled to attach and bond…. I don’t know how many times I have carried her out of stores kicking and screaming and punching and spitting.”
Lisa recalled the moment everything changed. One night while Lisa, a writer, sat down for work, Sevy sat down next to her with paper and pencils and began to draw. Lisa told MJ, “Sevy was more calm in that moment drawing than she ever was otherwise.” Lisa quickly realized that Sevy “wasn’t just scribbling on a page – she was drawing really intricate faces and doing different techniques,” despite never having taken an art lesson in her life. She said “It hit me: She’s an artist! She knows what she’s doing!” What’s more, Lisa saw Sevy’s artwork, whether drawing or painting, as Sevy’s version of “speaking,” her way of “trying to tell me something here.” (Watch a 2018 YouTube video of Sevy’s story as told by her mom Lisa below.)
What began as a post of Sevy’s artwork on Lisa’s Instagram page led almost unbelievably to an international following. Sevy’s artwork is now available via waitlist only, and people all over the world wait months to be able to purchase one of her canvases or other artwork.
The Eicher family has also founded the nonprofit Sandal Gap Studio, a reference to “the large space between the big toe and the others” that is “one of the unique physical traits that many people with Down Syndrome have.” According to the studio’s website, they aim to offer “free art and painting classes, unified art projects, photography classes, special needs camps, activities for Down Syndrome adults, and drawing classes.”
In a culture often all too eager to stamp out children with Down Syndrome, Sevy and her family are a poignant reminder that each of us is gifted and a gift in our own particular way. Rather than emphasizing the ways that people with Down Syndrome are “different” or “less than,” we all benefit by opening our eyes to the light, life, and joy that they bring into the world.
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