GLOVERSVILLE - Dave Hayes has always had a passion for art, but he didn't consider poetry until he was in prison in 1998 for selling crack cocaine.
He taught himself how to read and write by reading Stephen King books while in prison and began to use poetry as a personal reflection of his recovery from substance abuse.
"The poems I wrote in prison are me; they are my recovery," said Hayes, 53, a Gloversville resident and former crack cocaine addict. "When I got out [of prison], people started suggesting that I share them with other addicts, but I wasn't interested because I thought they were all about me, but they're not. They're about every addict facing life and the challenges of addiction."
Steven Rulison of Johnstown looks at photography on display at the HFM Prevention Council Gallery during a recent reception at the Fulton County Regional Chamber of Commerce & Industry in Gloversville. The exhibit is on display through Thursday.
The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan
Today, Hayes is sharing his poetry and artwork with the public. His works are among that of 40 artists on display in the gallery at the Fulton County Regional Chamber of Commerce & Industry at 2 N. Main St.
The exhibit includes works by people in the community who are in recovery from addiction to substances or are affected by addiction. The exhibit, which also includes works by supporters of people in recovery, was organized by the Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery Prevention Council and ASAPP's Promise.
The HFM Prevention Council cooperates with local agencies to provide education, services and healthy alternatives to the counties' youth and families. The Prevention Council is a nonprofit agency funded by the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services.
Seeing the exhibit
The HFM Prevention Council's exhibit at the Fulton County Regional Chamber of Commerce & Industry at 2 N. Main St. can be viewed from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. today through Thursday.
Hayes has been in recovery for 14 years, but he relapsed in 2006. That is when he became involved with the Prevention Council. Since then, he has been clean for seven years.
He said the 2006 relapse made him want to start helping others in recovery.
One of his poems is titled "Slap of Reality." It reflects the battle of recovery. Part of the poem reads:
I never thought that I fit in,
So I went to places I thought I did.
An artists easel is what I see,
And a multitude of colors, just for me.
Sights and scenes beyond compare.
Some were righteous and some not fair.
But life is filled with ups and downs,
So I continued to hang around.
The poem goes through the feelings and challenges he faced when in recovery, while sending a message of hope to continue on and live the best life possible.
"I have been living 53 years, but I have only been alive since I was 40," he said. "It was time to use the gift that God has given me and do something about my life, or die."
Hayes also made reverse glass paintings, which are on display at the exhibit.
September is "recovery month," and the Prevention Council is celebrating people who are in recovery, said HFM Executive Director Ann Rhodes.
"It's a celebration of hope and life," she said. "Recovery is an awakening of the spirit; it's very uplifting and positive what recovery brings to people."
The art and other forms of creativity in the exhibit include photography, pencil, watercolor, clay, poetry, etching, pastel and ink drawings. The subjects and emphasis of the artist's work at the display varies from one piece to the next ranging from self-portraits, body parts, flowers and scenery.
"It is less about their addiction and more about their recovery; it's less about their sad story and more about their new story," said project co-coordinator Jaime Rulison. "We asked them to express their recovery because that is who they are now; the addiction is a part of who they have been."
This can be seen in the work of acrylic painter Bev Pechtel, who has several paintings of colorful scenery, birds, flowers and fruit on display.
Pechtel, who lives in Vail Mills, said she didn't start recovery from her addiction to alcohol until she was 53 years old. She said she found painting was the perfect hobby to keep her mind off her addiction. For the next 26 years, Pechtel used painting as something to keep her focus on to remain sober. She is now 80 years old and continuing her hobby of painting.
"I didn't want to paint anything morbid," said Pechtel. "I enjoyed painting pleasant things, so I would paint photos of beautiful scenes from the magazine Birds & Blooms. My imagination isn't that great, so I use the things that I see."
Rulison explained art is a tool used to help addicts get through their addiction during recovery and get their feelings out about the process of battling an addiction. She said this display is an opportunity for people who have had difficult times in their lives to be in the spotlight and receive positive feedback.
She said having a lot of people acknowledge their talents is a big encouragement for them to stay in recovery.
For many of the artists featured in the display, this was their first time having their artwork in front of the public.
"The artists are people who are very creative, and perhaps when they were actively in their addiction, that part of them wasn't allowed to blossom," said Rhodes. "Once they got into recovery, that creative part of them was really able to bloom, and we see a lot of that in their work on display. To us, it is very joyous to see that kind of transformation."
The display may give those who aren't connected to recovery an understanding that trying to recover isn't a hopeless effort, said Rhodes.
The display features a piece known as the "Recovery Wall," where former addicts have displayed their picture with a quote or message that inspires those in recovery to continue and lets them see they are not alone in the battle with addiction.
The exhibit at the chamber features 21 people in recovery.
The wall will be permanently moved to the HFM Prevention Council Training Center in Johnstown once the gallery display has concluded.
The wall will continue to be updated.
The council encourages people who are in recovery who want to be part of the "Recovery Wall" to call 736-8188.
"People paint a picture in their head of what addiction and recovery look like, but when you realize that there are people you may know on a piece like the 'Recovery Wall,' it makes recovery a little more acceptable," said Rulison. "It really can happen to anyone; addiction doesn't discriminate, and neither does recovery."
Original poster designs made by Linda Hinkle are on display at the gallery as well. Hinkle is responsible for making posters for the HFM Prevention Council. The poster subjects vary from gambling to addiction.
The Prevention Council expressed gratitude to the chamber for allowing use of the gallery for free this month.
Although this was the Prevention Council's first time using the gallery for an art display, the group hopes to make this a tradition for September for years to come, said Rulison.
"This was one of the most well-received art displays the chamber has ever held in the gallery," said Fulton County Chamber Interim President Mark Kilmer. "People from the community were coming in flocks; it's really great to see all the support."
Chamber of Commerce Events and Programs Director Sharon Jenkins said the chamber asks members four times a year if any of them want to use the gallery. The chamber tries to hold around seven gallery displays a year. In October, Lexington Center will be using the gallery.
"The chamber gallery welcomes all types of creative expression in support of our member businesses and to expand the arts experience in our communities," Jenkins said. "During the month of September, HFM Prevention Council has provided both a unique and touching display by those in recovery and friends of the council. I like to encourage thinking out of the box, as it increases awareness and generates excitement about a subject that may not have been thought about before."
The HFM Prevention Council's display is available for free public viewing daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Thursday.