Young, blind Missouri artist gaining attention

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Kristian Hirsch, 8, gave a crooked smile as he explained how he created his detailed duck painting on the computer.

His fingers traced the lines where he had used the paintbrush tool to create the impression of wings, feet and a long curving neck. Beneath the picture were the words "DUKC." Although he spelled the word wrong, there was no mistaking this first-grader's talent.

Perhaps made even more remarkable because due to a condition called pendulum nystagmus, Hirsch is legally blind.

That hasn't slowed down this young artist.

Recently, one of Hirsch's paintings won an art contest sponsored by VSA International, an organization working to connect people with disabilities with an aspect of art.

Contestants were asked to tell the story of how their disability helps them see the world differently. Hirsch titled his acrylic painting, "Outside My Window without My Glasses."

The painting will be on display in Washington, D.C., at the Union Station shopping center in June along with other winners from across the nation.

"It's a hill scene, a country scene," Hirsch said. "At first, I used toothpaste for white. Then we started getting it mixed up and stuff. I mixed up any color I could find."

Hirsch transformed the blank canvas into a work of art with his nose pressed close to the paper, intently focused on the developing colors.

"His work always has a lot of depth," said Cathy Bertolotti, art teacher at St. Peter School. "I don't know what he sees, but he doesn't seem blind to me."

Hirsch said he doesn't really think about his physical limitations. Instead, he sees all that he can do.

"It just lets me have fun and stuff. It lets me do anything I want. I can draw anything," Hirsch said with unreserved pride. "I just feel like I'm born to draw. It's the best."

Karl Hirsch, Kristian's father, has the same condition as his son and is legally blind as well. He learned to draw on his own because he couldn't see the blackboard from his seat. His admiration and pride for his son is evident.

"When I was his age, they wouldn't worry about teaching me art. They would say, 'You're blind,"' Karl Hirsch said. "He's breaking a paradigm."