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LARSON: Artists grow in their contributions to community

Susan Larson

Susan Larson

I love how the people I write about grow on me. And I don't just mean the fondness I develop for them. I also mean the way they grow beyond who they were when I first mentioned them in my column.

Like Aimee Burgamy, the art teacher at Trickum Middle School. Last year I wrote about her when she was named Gwinnett Teacher of the Year. Beating out thousands of other nominees, Burgamy has now grown beyond that title to become the first Great American Teacher of the Year.

Then there's Mike Swain, the artist in Norcross who lost his job and used those "extra 40 hours" to pursue his real love in life.

"I have just finished illustrating not one, but two Christmas books. In addition, I've just finished work for a fishing book for children. Another children's book I illustrated about a girl and her pet chicken, which is very spiritual, has already sold out its initial print," he said. "I'm currently doing work for a children's book cautioning against the consumption of alcohol and a book called 'Alphabetoons.' Suffice it to say I'm keeping busy."

Finally, there's Alex Shead, the mastermind behind the Stadium of Screams, whose company I mentioned in early October. Shead, I discovered, is a multifaceted guy working in the realms of both the scared and the sacred.

"My birthday is close to Halloween, so the two celebrations overlapped," Shead said. "My father was an art professor at LaGrange College. I grew up in a 72-room mansion there and every year we decorated it like a haunted house."

Though it was fun making people scared, it's in the spirit of the sacred that Shead really finds his self-fulfillment. His day job -- the one that pays the bills -- is selling exercise equipment. But sitting in his office allows him lots of time to draw.

"I was always good at drawing," Shead said, handing me several notebooks full of childhood artwork. "When I started this business, instead of sending Christmas cards, I sent drawings instead. They became very popular with clients and business relationships transcended into friendships. The more I drew and gave my work away, the more my business grew."

Shead donates his artwork to various charities. The first was a drawing of Bruce Springsteen in concert. When one of Springsteen's band members died of cancer, Shead donated the drawing to help raise money for cancer research. And all money from the purchase of his artwork (www.alexsheadstudios.com) goes directly to charities.

"With my company's success over the last several decades, I am convinced that the growth was and is in direct correlation with my putting God first in my life. I could do drawings in my studio where no one sees them or I can use my God-given talent to generate proceeds to help others."

Drawing from my continued contact with all three artists, all I can say is, "Way to grow!"

Susan Larson is a Lilburn resident. E-mail her at susanlarson4@yahoo.com.