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October 25, 2004

Deaf author, artist bring message of understanding to children

From: Grand Island Independent - Grand Island,NE,USA - Oct 25, 2004

Cultural values emphasized as speakers help hearing-impaired students through artwork and reading

By Harold Reutter

When Tony Landon McGregor was studying for his doctorate at the University of Texas, he traveled to an archeological site near Del Rio, Texas, where he could study the "rock art" of Navajo Indians.

"It became etched into my life," said McGregor, who noted Native American art has influenced his own art work ever since.

On Friday, McGregor was in Grand Island to impart his love of "rock art" to about 30 elementary and middle-school-age children from Central Nebraska. He was accompanied in that mission by Walter Paul Kelley, a children's book author.

The two men were teaching students who were all either hearing-impaired or deaf.

But that was no barrier to communication for either McGregor, or Kelley, both of whom are Deaf and who could communicate with the students easily through sign language.

Some of the students at the session Friday could hear with the help of hearing aids and communicate verbally.

For McGregor and Kelley, Deaf is a culture, which is capitalized the same as American, Hispanic or any other culture.

The two men, both native Texans, have collaborated on several children's books. They knew each other long before they worked together on their first book.

"I had him (McGregor) as a student when he was young, probably about 12 or 13 years old," said Kelley, who himself has studied Pueblo Indian art.

Katelyn Palmer, a fifth-grader from Ansley, said she learned during the morning presentation that McGregor is part Indian.

McGregor, in turn, told The Independent his Native American ancestry is one of the reasons he has been so attracted to Indian art. It is simply part of who he is.

The students learned two vocabulary words Friday.

The word "pictograph" means painting on rocks, while the word "petroglyph" means an image that is chipped or carved into rock.

Kelley told students that petroglyphs came first because people didn't learn how to use plants and berries to make the paints until later.

When asked, Palmer agreed with the proposition that if early humankind felt driven enough to create art and stories by chipping into rock, then perhaps art isn't a luxury, but something that is essential to man.

Just as essential is the concept of love. Kelley wrote the "I Love You Story," which was illustrated by McGregor. It shows the evolution of the word "love" in visual and spoken forms. One of the earliest illustrations in the book is McGregor's illustration of a person making a petroglyph to show love.

Students had opportunities to get some hands-on experience making their own pictographs.

Bradee Shedeed, a third-grader from Cozad, was pleased with her pictograph, which she proudly pointed out was decorated with three different colors. She said art is one of her favorite subjects.

Alyssa Gimpel, a sixth-grader from Aurora, chose a bright yellow hue for her pictograph. She said she is about to decorate her room at home and that it, too, would be brightly colored.

Asked about one of the things she had learned during the morning half of the daylong session, Gimpel said she had never heard of the word petroglyph.

She also had noticed the letters, Ph.D., next to McGregor's and Kelley's names. She said she was not quite sure what that meant.

When told it meant that a person first went to college for four years to get a bachelor's degree, then went to school two more years to get a master's degree, and finally, went to school even more years to get a Ph.D., Gimpel had an immediate reaction.

"That's way too long," she said.

McGregor laughed when he was later told about Gimpel's reaction.

"It (the doctorate) is worth it," he said.

Cheri Roberts of Educational Service Unit 9 said presentations like the one given by McGregor and Kelley give the children something to aspire to.

Friday morning's session ended with the reading of another Kelley and McGregor collaboration, the illustrated children's book "Victory Week," which tells about the protests that led to the appointment of the first Deaf president in the history of Gallaudet University.

© 2004 The Grand Island Independent