When Clarion University alumni Dan McAdoo was diagnosed with Wilson’s disease at 8 years old, he was prescribed a form of therapy that shaped his college major, as well as his future career.
According to the Mayo Clinic, Wilson's disease is a rare, inherited disorder that causes copper to build up in a person's liver, brain and other vital organs. When copper isn't eliminated properly, it can be life threatening and bring on a host of other symptoms such as liver complications, neurological problems, psychiatric concerns and other health issues.
McAdoo struggles with chronic headaches, some movement fluidity and speech issues as a result of his diagnosis. He takes medication and avoids copper-rich foods to control his Wilson's symptoms and does the one thing he was prescribed as a boy: art therapy. Only now, McAdoo makes his living as an artist.
"When they found out (about his diagnosis) they put him in art classes as therapy,"
McAdoo's wife, Erin, said.
Art, he says, has not only given him an occupation, but a way of communicating with the world. And if his art is any indication, he has a lot to say.
Life through art
One spring day, McAdoo sat down for an interview in a place where he painted a large mural on four walls – or 1,220 square feet of painted space.
The mural is in Vincent Dougherty's taxidermy display in Fairmount City. It complements the mounts that Dougherty has; each mount connects to a full, painted body of accurate dimensions, which McAdoo created. He also painted the backgrounds, which beckon the locations of where the animals originated – places like the African Savannah or the mountains in Alaska.
Dougherty was afraid to trust anyone with the mural, fearing the piece would end up being "cartoony," so he asked McAdoo to paint just one wall at first, Dougherty's daughter, Sharon Shreckengost, said.
"Then this happened," McAdoo quipped of the large four-wall mural.
McAdoo paints in layers, and one day the piece started to become something more than just layers, Shreckengost said. Dougherty liked what he saw and decided to let him paint the remaining three walls.
The mural took five months to complete, with McAdoo painting Monday through Friday.
"It just grew, because Dan just did such an amazing job," Shreckengost said.
A closer walk with thee
McAdoo describes his painting as impressionistic in nature with Van Gogh-style hash marks. As he's gotten older, however, he has started to paint exactly what he sees. No matter how he chooses to paint, there is no shortage of customers who want a Dan McAdoo original painting or mural.
McAdoo's work can be found all over Clarion County in restaurants like the RRR Roadhouse, churches of every denomination, the Fraternal Order of Eagles, the Moose Lodge 101 and the VFW Post 2612.
McAdoo, a Limestone native, has since moved to the Cleveland area but continues to paint for people in western Pennsylvania.
When he paints, he said he thinks about "the Lord. Just the Lord."
McAdoo, a Christian, shares his message of hope through paintings created during church services. He paints a Christian-themed painting in roughly one hour while people watch him.
He recalls that one time he didn't think a particular painting – of mother Mary and Jesus as a child – was going so well. Then, he stepped back and the painting just popped.
"When I stepped back, I said, 'Wow,'" McAdoo said.
It's that change in perspective that is common in McAdoo's life. McAdoo doesn't consider his diagnosis a disability.
"It can be a lonely life because you are looking at the wall," Erin McAdoo said Dan once told her of being an artist.
he loneliness could also be said of Wilson's disease complications and how it affects communication.
"That's why I talk to Jesus while I paint," McAdoo said.
McAdoo seems to look at his Wilson's disease and his art as equal gifts.
"Don't let it stop you," is his message to others who have been diagnosed with disabilities or illnesses. "I want to inspire others," McAdoo said.
McAdoo, who is in steady demand to paint murals and paintings, said his education at Clarion helped him learn to paint quickly.
He also refurbishes furniture and sculpts.
"I found a love for sculpture while attending (Clarion University). I added sculpture as a second concentration. I have combined painting and sculpture in my furniture making," he said.
His love of sculpting was found, in part, because of his favorite professor, Kaersten Woodruff.
"She really challenged her students. Her ideas of sculpting challenged our abilities and minds," he said. "She made sculpting exciting to where I fell in love with it."
His artistry also enabled him to meet people when he was a student.
"I was blessed to gain a lot friends at Clarion who encouraged me as an artist," McAdoo said. "I loved the long studio hours – being with other art majors, staying up all night, painting or sketching at Eat 'n Park. I loved being in the sculpture studio, building furniture or creating three dimensional sculptures from clay."