Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Florida woman with Down syndrome finds success as an artist

From The Miami Herald:

ISLAMORADA, Fla. -- In 1971, a doctor told Barbara Edgar she might as well put her 9-day-old daughter, Cinnamon, in an institution right away because that's where children with Down syndrome end up.

``That was horrible to say,'' said Jean Eyster, Cinnamon's grandmother. ``And if it happened, oh, what we would have missed.''

Today, Cinnamon Edgar (pictured) -- now 38 -- has her own business, Florida Keys Art by Cinnamon. She sells her colorful watercolor paintings, note cards and scenic photography of sunsets, palm trees and wildlife to about 55 clients from Key Largo to Marathon. Four years into the business, she's sold about 20,000 note cards and art pieces at luxury resort gift shops, souvenir stores, visitor centers and art festivals.

One of her photos -- of a palm-tree lined beach -- adorned the cover of The Real Yellow Pages in 2008 for the Florida Keys.

``I like taking pictures of palm trees,'' Cinnamon Edgar said, calling them ``very Keys-ee.''

Edgar -- who splits her time living with her mother and stepfather, and her grandparents -- solicits clients by phone and in person, keeps track of accounts using a Quickbooks computer program and does her own folding, sorting, envelope-stuffing and labeling.

Her brand of charm also helps close sales. At a charity event, her vibrant watercolor of a volcano was on the auction block. When the bidding reached $300, the 4-foot-10-inch Edgar stood up and pointed her thumbs toward the ceiling.

``Higher, higher,'' she encouraged the crowd. The painting sold for $500.

Judy Hull, executive director of the Islamorada Chamber of Commerce, said Edgar's art is popular because of her use of color -- and her personality.

``When I think of Cinnamon, I think of a genuine sweet person,'' Hull said. ``A lot of her art portrays that sweetness.''

It was her kindness that comforted a U.S. Marine corporal who was stationed in Iraq during the Gulf War. In 1990, Ted Segar chose a letter postmarked Florida from a box of hundreds addressed to ``any service member.'' They became pen pals.

``Her letters and cards were so upbeat, and a great source of comfort to know we had somebody in our corner who cared about us,'' Segar said by phone from New York.

But it wasn't until after the war, when Segar returned home to Miami and stopped to meet Edgar, that he learned that she has Down syndrome, a genetic disorder that delays physical and intellectual development.

``Never in a million years would I have guessed,'' Segar said. ``Her writing was exemplary.''

Edgar's mother, Barbara, said she refused to let ``can't'' enter her daughter's vocabulary. Edgar initially attended public school but, by age 8, it was clear she needed specialized schooling, so her mother enrolled her at the Marian Center, a Catholic school for children with developmental disabilities in Miami Gardens.

The only thing Edgar has tackled but been unable to conquer is driving. Her mother said her reflexes are too slow for the busy traffic of the Keys.

The idea of the art business goes back a decade to when Edgar -- bored with the repetition of adult workshops. Her mother let Edgar quit school only if she found something productive to do at home. That led to a University of South Florida scholarship that provided guidance for developmentally challenged persons starting small businesses.

Most of her photographs are taken at her grandparents' oceanfront home in the Keys. On mornings with an especially beautiful sunrise, Keys historian Irving Eyster will wake his granddaughter so she can shoot a picture that might grace a notecard or other item.

And Edgar remains determined to push her business to the next level. This year, she moved into cyberspace, with her website: www.CinnamonsFloridaKeysArt.com.