Some of South Florida’s youngest artists will make their debut this Sunday, with an exhibition featuring their work at an upscale gallery in Aventura on August 26.Meet Jacob and Ariel Horton, two brothers from Boca Raton who have a unique talent for drawing. The budding artists also have Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a genetic disorder with no cure that is characterized by progressive muscle degeneration and weakness. For Ariel, 11, and Jacob, 8, walking several feet is a struggle, and they largely depend on wheelchairs to move around.
Yet, despite their debilitating illness and its accompanying challenges, the Horton boys are leading happy, productive lives. The Hortons have been clients of the Chai Lifeline Southeast region for the last eight years, and are thriving under the care of Esther Fettman, their case manager. Chai Lifeline is a national organization that offers free emotional, social, psychological, and financial assistance to families living with pediatric illness or loss.
“Jacob and Ariel are the funniest and sweetest boys, and everyone falls in love with them,” said Esther.
Thanks to Chai Lifeline, Ariel and Jacob have attended Camp Simcha and have gone on multiple trips to Disney World. They’ve had private lessons with an art tutor, themed birthday parties with customized cakes and were able to install a handicapped-accessible bathroom in their house. They also love their “big brothers and sisters,” counselors who visit and take them out on trips, a highlight of their week.
“I don’t know what we would do without Esther and Chai Lifeline,” said Liat Horton, the boys’ mother. “We are so blessed to have Chai Lifeline in our lives, and they’ve been with us literally since the day our boys were diagnosed in 2011. They are always there when we need them, always trying to make it easier, making my kids happy and helping them enjoy life.”
About six months ago, Liat was telling Esther how her boys were feeling down about the many physical activities they couldn’t do, and Esther was thinking of ways she could help.
“Since they are extremely talented artistically, I said to Liat: ‘Let’s focus on what they’re good at,’” Esther recalled. “Why don’t we do something to encourage their strengths – something they can work on and be proud of.”
Esther called up Ken Hendel, a Chai Lifeline supporter and owner of Gall Art Studio, a beautiful upscale gallery in Aventura, asking him to host a show to displaying the Hortons’ work. Ken was immediately on board.
“I’ve always been involved in Chai Lifeline, and it’s a tremendous organization with a mission that I’m passionate about,” Ken said. “I’ve done shows like this before, and I saw how it meant so much to the kids. Being an artist and being on display was a meaningful representation that all their problems that plague them the rest of the time can disappear for one day. The Horton boys are great kids, and it’s amazing to see the pleasure on their faces as they come out of their element.”
Art is truly a form of therapy for the boys, and they are eagerly awaiting the show.
“I draw lots of things and it makes me feel good to draw,” said Ariel. “I love cartoons because they make me happy,” added Jacob.
Ariel and Jacob are self-taught, and both have been drawing since they were little. Their portfolio includes hundreds of sketches, in both color and black-and-white, of cartoon characters from Disney movies to Super Mario to Star Wars. Ariel has recently been illustrating characters from his favorite horror movies.
The boys set up Facebook and Instagram accounts to display their drawings and encourage people to come to the exhibit. Their framed sketches will be in good company in the sprawling 8,000-square-foot gallery, displayed alongside the works of Chagall, Picasso, and Warhol. The event will also feature a light buffet, arts and crafts projects for kids, and of course, the chance to meet Ariel and Jacob.
Proceeds from the sale of the artwork will benefit the Hortons, as well as Chai Lifeline Southeast families.
“We know they are artists, and art is how to make them feel happy and proud of what they can do, not what they can’t,” said Liat.
“Ariel and Jacob can express themselves through art and are so talented that it really defines them in a way,” said Ellen Weiss, director of Chai Lifeline Southeast. “Hopefully that energy can be transformed into something positive that helps them get better and continues to make a difference.”
The Horton Boys art exhibition will be on display Sunday, August 26 from 12-3 p.m. at Gallery Art, 20633 Biscayne Boulevard, Aventura, Florida. To learn more about Chai Lifeline, please visit www.chailifeline.org.