David Nolt has been painting since he was 2. 

However, as Nolt was born with the rare affliction Arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, he does not have the use of his arms. This did not stop Nolt from creating – the now-42-year-old has been painting with his mouth to great success for most of his life. 

Nolt’s story, as well as a glimpse at his day-to-day life as an artist living in Leola,is featured in the new documentary “A Life Like This” by Lancaster documentarian James Hollenbaugh. The 45-minute film also highlights Malcolm Corley, Adam Musser and Sybil Roe Thompson, three area artists with mental disabilities.  

Corley’s work has been shown at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. and the State Museum of Pennsylvania, Musser creates paintings and three-dimensional art at Friendship Heart Gallery & Studio in Lancaster city and Thompson operates out of a studio in the Goggleworks Center for the Arts in Reading. Each of these three artists has been diagnosed with Autism. 

Hollenbaugh served as an artist-in-residence at Franklin & Marshall College this past fall, creating the film as well as arranging its counterpart art exhibition featuring works from the film’s artists thanks to a grant from F&M’s Center for the Sustained Engagement with Lancaster. 

Nolt says that the film is an opportunity to showcase not only the art he creates, but the fact that art is his livelihood.  

“This is actually what I do for a living, this is not just something I do for the kicks and giggles of it,” Nolt says. “When the plumber comes out to fix my pipes, it costs the same as it does for anybody else, and I can't just sell a painting for a couple hundred bucks, because I had the fun of doing it and spent a month on it.” 

The “A Life Like This” exhibit, which also features the film running on a loop, is open weekdays at the college’s Winter Visual Arts Center from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. An official screening and a Q&A with Hollenbaugh will take place at 7 p.m. the Winter Visual Arts Center on Friday, March 31. 

“I wanted to do a really positive story, about how art can help someone overcome disabilities, or at least make life a little easier,” Hollenbaugh says. “That's what I was trying to find, and that's what I found with these four artists. The stories are really powerful, and I wanted to document them.” 

“A Life Like This” opens plaintively with artist Malcolm Corley stepping to the microphone at F&M’s Nevin Chapel to sing “This Little Light of Mine” accompanied by his mother, pianist Maria Thompson Corley. The song’s lyrics serve as an appropriate opening salvo to the works featured within, as each artist has found a way to let their creativity shine through one set of means or another. 

Hollenbaugh has created short films about outsider artists in the past. He says that he was initially drawn to the artists through the power of their work, and then once he got to know them better, their stories. 
“I wanted to focus specifically on artists with disabilities because I felt like they're really under-represented in the art world in general, but also here in Lancaster." 

Hollenbaugh noted the work of Friendship Heart Gallery & Studios, which hosts classes, shows artwork and provides other opportunities for people with disabilities. But he wishes there was wider representation of people with disabilities throughout Lancaster's art community. 

"I wanted to bring awareness to some individuals in the area that are creating really cool art and maybe for some reason, can't show at other galleries.” 

From his studio space atop a barn in Leola, Nolt says that Hollenbaugh emailed him last fall with the idea for his film. They exchanged ideas, though the two first met in person on Hollenbaugh’s first day of filming.  

Nolt is a longtime fixture in the Lancaster County art community, having previously served as president of the Lititz Art Association and appeared at various First Friday events over the years. Since 2001, Nolt’s primary income has come from Mouth & Foot Painting Artists, a worldwide organization that compensates artists for the reproduction copyrights to their works so that they can be sold across the world. 

“His paintings are incredibly detailed.It's realism, not abstract in any way,” Hollenbaugh says of Nolt’s art. “I was really interested in what I saw, and then when I met him, things just got even better. He'sreally pretty self-sufficient, and I can't even begin to imagine what it would be like to not have the use of my hands or arms, much less to create something like this.” 

Nolt compares his job to that of a waiter who gets paid a minimum balance and then gets “tips” at the end of the year depending on how many of his paintings sell. Because of the worldwide nature of the company, Nolt says that his paintings tend to skew towards general subject matter as opposed to more personal works. 

“Like, if I did Amish art or southwest art, it would only be relevant for this area,” Nolt says.“The stuff that I paint could be used anywhere, in any country. If I would just do a certain type of art, it's not going to be anything in Europe or China. So, what I try to focus on is something more universal.” 

At the installation’s opening reception on Friday, March 10, Hollenbaugh, Nolt and the other three artists were on hand to welcome guests into “A Life Like This.” Some of the artists got to meet for the first time and beamed as they displayed their work to friends, family and new fans. 

While further distribution plans for the documentary are mum for the time being, Nolt says that he currently doesn’t have heightened expectations for how the film will be received, outside of some extra recognition for his work as an artist. 

“It's a great way to get the public to understand that a handicapped person isn't really inferior to another person, in the artwork quality or whatever,” Nolt says. “There is that view that, if a handicapped person is doing something for you, that it might not be as high quality or it might not be whatever. But it can be just as high quality.” 

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