Journal of Rehabilitation Research & Development (JRRD)

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JRRD Cover Art Winner 2010,
Sherman Watkins

Air Force veteran Sherman Watkins discovered his talent early in life and began drawing at six years old. He began painting at age 15. He describes himself as primarily self-taught, with a compulsion to create art.

Orphaned at a young age, Watkins recalls drawing pictures to cope with feelings of stress and depression.

“Being raised by my aunt, I went through a lot of things and art was a way of taking away some of that stress,” said Watkins. ”I was separated from my brother and sister, I would draw and this would relax my mind.”

A painting he saw in a book inspired his latest work, Lady with Bible. “I saw this picture of a lady reading a Bible in a book,” said Watkins. “I’m very religious. I believe in God. I believe in faith, so I said ‘I’m going to paint that.’”

At the urging of his wife and other fans, he entered the acrylic painting into the local creative arts competition for veterans, from which it was also submitted to the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival and the Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development (JRRD) cover art contest.

Watkins is a retired illustrator from the space shuttle program and a professional artist. His subjects range from nature and major events in African-American history to famous Americans.

“I’ve painted so many people—President Johnson and the Kennedys. I painted President Carter who sends me a card each year and I painted Oprah,” said Watkins.

But his most memorable accomplishment is the display of his work in a traveling exhibition demonstrating the influence and importance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s legacy through the visual arts sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution. The exhibition, ''In the Spirit of Martin: The Living Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.,'' featured 118 works and toured the United States between 2000 and 2004.

“I really feel in my heart that God has given me my roses now while I am living,” said Watkins. “So many artists make it to the Smithsonian but only after their death. One day, I said to God I would love to be in the Smithsonian, but I don’t want to be dead when I get there. A week later I got the telephone call.”

To learn more about our featured artist, listen to our JRRD at a Glance podcast at www.rehab.research.va.gov/jour/jrrdpodcindx.html.

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