Portrait of independence

Peterborough man with autism thriving in a new life inspired by art

  • Ben Hooper rides his bike on Saturday in downtown Peterborough, where his mother says he's thrilled to be living.
  • Artist Ben Hooper at opening reception for a River Center show of his artwork, which will be on display through the end of December.
  • A still life by Ben Hooper, on display at the River Center.
  • A landscape by Ben Hooper, one of many paintngs on display at his River Center exhibit.<br/>
  • Ben Hooper celebrates in front of one of his paintings, which will be on exhibit through the end of December at the River Center in Peterborough.

Ben Hooper loves music, art and his adopted hometown of Peterborough.

Hooper, a 23-year-old who is on the autism spectrum, recently moved from his parents’ home in Francestown to an apartment in Peterborough that he shares with a roommate. The transition has given him a chance to express himself in many ways, as he works to become independent as an adult.

“When Ben comes home, he reminds me that he lives in Peterborough now,” says his mother, Jane Hooper. “People in town will see him riding his bike, singing. He’s thrilled to be in Peterborough. Arms are open there, which is very nice.”

One way Ben is broadening his life is through his artwork. He’s been creating most of his life, using paint, pencil and a variety of other media. Lately, he’s been studying with artist Mona Adisa Brooks at the Trumpet Gallery in Peterborough, next door to the Grove and Main antique shop where his mother works. There, Brooks says, they have been meeting once a week to work with pastels.

“Ben is doing a remarkable job,” Brooks said last week at an opening reception for a month-long show of Ben’s work at the River Center in Peterborough. “It takes a lot of focus on his part. We’re trying to present his work in a clean fashion. He’s concentrating on clarity and remembering.”

“The drive to get him connected to an art teacher was to expose him to how best to use different materials,” Jane Hooper says. “Mona is very patient. One of the best things she does is working with people, coaching them.”

Some of Ben’s paintings are modeled on well known landscapes and portraits done by other painters, which Brooks says helps him work on remembering detail and developing clarity in his work. Others are inspired by the music he often listens to when he paints.

“It just comes out of my head.” Ben said at the reception. “I like to do my art in my new room on Concord Street.”

Pointing to a colorful portrait on the wall, he announced, “That’s Roger Daltrey. I’m doing Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding.”

“He’s been drawing since he was 3,” said Ben’s father, Patrick Hooper, at the reception. ““It’s very much a relaxing exercise for him.”

Ben attended ConVal High School, graduating through the life skills program in 2009 and staying on at the school until he turned 21 in 2011. He goes to Plowshare Farm in Greenfield, a community for developmentally disabled adults, three days a week. At the farm, his mother said, he works in the kitchen and gardens and in the woodworking shop. On Saturdays, he works at New Boston Pizza, folding boxes and doing other prep work.

“He’s looking for work in Peterborough,” Jane Hooper says. “It would be ideal for him to find a job here. He’s kind of taken ownership of Peterborough as his town.”

The move to his own apartment is working out well, according to Ben’s mother.

“Autism is a huge umbrella and Ben does have some cognitive challenges,” she says. “He doesn’t really need care. He needs oversight. Growing into independence is a gradual process.”

Ben’s artwork will be on display at the River Center throughout December. Most of the works are for sale, and several had already been purchased on the night of the reception.

Ben has also sold his paintings at the Broke arts fairs in Peterborough and will have work for sale at the Broke fair on Saturday at the Peterborough Town House.

“We’ll pull some of the work at the River Center down for the day and he’ll also have some of his cards for sale,” Jane Hooper says. “One of the benefits is that people have become interested in buying his art. He’s been able to make some money with it, which was unexpected.”

At the reception, Ben shared a few thoughts on how his art and his study with Brooks are shaping his life.

“I’m learning to be a good student and a good sport,” Ben said. “I think doing my art helps me figure out how to be kind and to be helpful.”

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or danderson@ledgertranscript.com. He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.

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