This blog is usually reserved for insights about leadership, career and workplace issues. But many times, we find inspiration outside the office. A few months ago, our Finance Director Gayette Eicher introduced us to her family: her son Joey, his wife Lisa and their four children. Their story inspired us to rethink what we know about creativity, possibility and the power of yes.
The Eichers are a family who think big. They are rebels, bucking convention—from their menagerie of three-legged dogs to the rope swing sailing through the family room. Lisa is a blogger and two-time American Ninja Warrior competitor. Joey, her high school sweetheart and husband of 12 years, has never met a stranger; he keeps the family moving with his energy and enthusiasm. Ace (their first child, but not the oldest… I’ll explain that riddle in a moment) started an online studio for artists with disabilities to promote inclusion and dispel myths. Archie (adopted from Bulgaria when Ace was three) is an aspiring model, routinely tagging “fellow” model @jordan_kimball on Instagram with videos about relationship and career advice. Radko, age four, is the baby and fond of lighter fluid (as I learned during my phone interview). He keeps his family on their toes.
Sevy was the last child to join the family. Adopted from Bulgaria at the age of 12, Sevy, like her brother Archie, has Down syndrome. But in the Eicher family, a little thing like an extra chromosome never stopped anyone.
Sevy is a child prodigy. At the age of 14, she is a professional artist whose works have been exhibited across the country and collected internationally. At first, Sevy’s art was a way for her mother Lisa to connect with her; to break down the barriers 12 years in institutional homes had built. It wasn’t long however before Lisa and Joey realized there was something special about her art—not only in the way the art impacted Sevy, but in the way Sevy’s art impacted those who viewed it. They gave her larger canvases, more tools, more media. Her art evolved from drawings on paper to multimedia works of art.
Lisa shared Sevy’s work on her social media. And followers, collectors and critics took notice. Before long, Sevy had her own Instagram account (@sevymarieart) with more than 20,000 followers. Gallery and online exhibitions were selling out, each piece priced between $300 and $2,000.
Many parents—especially parents of four children, two with special needs—might have been tempted to limit their children’s ambitions and dreams. Not Joey and Lisa. “Our kids have a lot of big ideas and dreams,” says Lisa. “Our first instinct might be to say ‘no, we can’t take on another project right now’, but we love that about our family and our kids, so we say ‘yes’. They know we have their backs no matter how strange an idea might be. Joey and I have always been big dreamers and unconventional in so many ways. It’s just natural for us to live off the beaten path.”
I sat down with Joey and Lisa to learn more about Sevy, her art, and the family environment that allowed her—and her talent—to flourish.
What inspires Sevy to paint?Sevy is nonverbal, so it’s hard for us to know what’s going on her mind. She’d be happy to wake up and paint every day, all day. It feels random to us, but I don’t think it’s random to her. I think there’s a lot more to it, but there’s not a noticeable pattern. She paints when she’s angry, she paints when she’s happy. It’s her therapy. It calms her. She’s lost in her own world; it’s her escape.
What are Sevy’s favorite media?
She primarily works in acrylics. She started adding in oil pastel crayons, and lately she uses spray paint; it’s one of her new favorite things. She’ll cover a canvas completely with acrylic paint (or sometimes just house paint from Lowe’s) using scrapers and brushes and all sorts of unconventional tools. Once that’s dry, she likes to use spray paint and more acrylics to add depth. Finally, depending on her mood or what she’s envisioned for the piece, she’ll add detailed line drawings with oil pastels.
You mentioned unconventional tools. Can you give me an example?Sevy uses anything she can find. She found a trowel in the garage; that’s her main tool. She also uses a crow bar to scrape away at dry layers or almost dry layers to reveal the contrasting colors underneath. She uses a turkey baster to shoot paint at the board; she uses measuring spoons to throw paint on the wood. She uses a meat tenderizer, pounding the paint into the board to make textures and patterns. She’ll take paper towels and lay them over wet acrylic paint and peel it off, almost like she’s making a print. She basically just tries anything and everything. Anywhere we go, she finds things she can paint with.
Have you seen an evolution in her art? Does she have “periods”?She’s evolved quite a bit since she began painting. With each collection, she’s branching out more, experimenting with different media, tools and techniques. You can follow her evolution on Instagram. She seems to feel more freedom in what she’s doing.
There are certain times that she’s into faces. It’s not in every piece, but in many pieces, she draws these faces that are distinct to Sevy. She has a lot of what I call “trademark Sevy” symbols. Her latest collection is full of them.
How does the family get involved in Sevy’s art?In the beginning, everybody helped prep the canvases or wood by painting it a solid white. Beyond that, the family takes part in whatever way Sevy asks. Sometimes, she wants us to sit with her and watch her paint, and sometimes she prefers to be alone.
Once a piece is finished, naming it is a family effort. We look at a piece and ask Sevy, what do you see in this painting, what do you think about this? Sevy will sign to us what she sees, and the kids will come up with a name for each piece.
Whenever someone local buys a piece, we all go together and deliver it, so the kids can be a part of that. It’s a family deal. Everyone is really intrigued by every aspect of it.
Alex & Red and her sister firm The Alexander Group are exhibiting Sevy's latest collection at our offices throughout the month of November.
What can you tell us about this collection?
This is one of the first collections where Sevy is showing more restraint. In the beginning, it was the more, the better. She kept on going and going and going. She still does, but she’s starting to do pieces that exhibit more self-control, in my opinion. There’s more negative space, which is a new style for her. It shows her growth and maturity as a human and as an artist, and that’s cool to see.
Are any of the pieces on display at Alex & Red and The Alexander Group for sale?We have had such interest since we first announced the exhibit at Alex & Red and The Alexander Group that we decided to offer them for sale. One piece has already been sold! From the beginning, we have had a strong reaction to Sevy's art. There are absolutely no better fans and collectors than Sevy’s.
To learn more about Sevy and the Eicher family, please visit sevymarieart.com or follow her journey on Instagram at @sevymarieart. To view the exhibition at our Houston offices, please visit our open house on Tuesday, November 13 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Please register here.