Whenever I catch myself feeling the slightest bit sorry for myself, I think about the very real and significant struggles that people with physical and developmental disabilities face in their lives every single day. Not only must they figure out how to accomplish life’s tasks in spite of their disability they must overcome the stigma society places on people who don’t look, move or talk like “normal” people do.
These folks don’t want your pity. What they do want are opportunities to prove that they belong in the same neighborhoods, workplaces and social gathering places that people without disabilities congregate. They want the chance to prove their disability doesn’t define who they are or limit what they can accomplish. This explains why it was actually an honor for me to learn about and write about an individual who just might be the most accomplished artist in the history of Amsterdam. Her name was Mary Van der Veer and she was a talented enough painter to have studied under Whistler in Paris and have her canvased creations win medals and be chosen for expositions and exhibits all around the country and the world. But what could never be seen when you looked at one of her beautiful landscapes or portraits was the woman with deformed hands and back, whose atrophied legs were paralyzed by a severe case of infantile paralysis when she was just three years old.
Mary Van der Veer was born on a farm just outside of Fort Hunter on September 9, 1865. It was there that she was struck with crippling polio as a very young child. Her miraculous journey from a severely disabled toddler to an incredibly gifted artist probably would not have been possible without her amazing parents. She was the daughter of John and Jennie Van Evera Van der Veer. Her dad went into the residential construction business. He built several homes in Amsterdam’s Market Hill neighborhood and moved his family into one of them, on Lincoln Avenue…
My complete birthday post for Van der Veer will appear in the new second edition of A Year’s Worth of Amsterdam, NY Birthdays, which will be available before the 2016 Holiday season. I also distribute an Amsterdam, NY Birthday Blog Monthly Newsletter that includes the full birthday posts for three of the twenty-to-thirty people whose birthdays I recognize each month. Each newsletter also includes an Amsterdam Birthday Quiz that will test your knowledge and memory of people and events in your hometown.
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