SMART, Inc. Artists

Shannon Kocka

My name is Shannon Kocka. I am a resident in Hayward, Wisconsin, and a graduate of the Hayward High School.

I was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome (a part of the Autism Spectrum) when I was two years old, and I’ve been very shy, and self-conscious ever since. I never wanted to try anything new, the mere thought of trying new things makes me panic and sick to my stomach to this day, I have speech impediment, and there are days where I will stare off into space either out of boredom or depression. I’ve had people helping me over the years, though. Friends, family, even old teachers, they were always teaching me to move forward. On some days it works and I feel like I’ve accomplished something big, while on other days I just sit and mope. If I had the choice to get rid of my autism, though, I wouldn’t take it. Autism and Aspergers isn’t a disease, it’s made me who I am today, and so it’s a part of me. Without it, I think I would be much less imaginative or interesting.

I love to watch movies; I am the movie person of my family, as well as playing specific types of video games, and listening to music. Music often helps get my imagination going, even if most of it is spent on daydreaming on my part. My other hobbies include reading, writing, drawing, and spending time with friends on the Internet.

To develop my independence, and social skills I’m employed at Marketplace foods as a bagger. It was scary to interact with so many people at first, but I’ve gotten used to it over time.

My dream is to become an accomplished writer and author, I have already written and published one book, and I hope to follow it up with more to come. In fact, I have published one book already. It is called “Wings” and I hope to make a trilogy out of it. “Wings” is only available on If you are interested in dragons and fantasy worlds, then hopefully this is the book for you.

Click Here to View Shannon’s Book


I lived in Northern Minnesota until I was in first grade; my family then moved to Northern California where I resided for many years. Throughout my early education I did not have any art classes. I became interested in art after having two major life saving surgeries and other medical problems. My disabilities are both physical and mental. I have a rare disease of achalasia and other medical challenges. While in the hospital, I bought a calendar. When I looked at the pictures for the month of June, there was a picture of the Brule River! I had been to the Brule River because both of my parents were originally from small communities on the South Shore of Lake Superior.

After recuperating from the hospital, I moved to Washburn, Wisconsin where I met and took two pastel classes from Diana Randolph. My first pastel painting was the Brule River. I also started taking watercolor classes from Wei Lan Lober. I take Wei Lan’s watercolor classes at Karlyn’s Gallery in Washburn. Everyone at the Gallery is welcoming and they are always glad to see me. Taking art classes has influenced my life, painting has helped me to have enjoyment and courage to do other things. Also, Lillian Hipp, a friend from class has taught me how to do Sumi-e painting. She took several days to show me this new technique.

My biggest honor is that I sold my first painting! It is on display at the Northern Lights Rehabilitation Center in Washburn.

At one time I was an elementary school teacher. I miss being in the classroom, but now I have found that I am learning about different art styles and exploring a variety of art mediums. I especially enjoy watercolors and coloring.

I am so glad to have met many people in my classes who have helped my anxiety by being friends and knowing they care about me.

Art has had a positive influence in my life because it soothes the soul inside me.

Click here to see Mary’s Gallery.


Giizhik was diagnosed with autism at age five. He began his artist’s journey at age six with his first Holiday card titled “Christmas Story.” Together with his younger brother, Mino, he now has a collection of 12 prints. Over the past seven years, Giizhik’s and Mino’s Holiday Cards for Autism have raised over $16,000.00 to benefit autism research at the Waisman Center at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. On Friday, January 20, 2017 he was honored by the Waisman Center. Giizhik was also chosen as the Sawyer County representative for the University of Wisconsin Madison, All Ways Forward Campaign. His billboard is located on the left side of Hwy 63 north as you are entering Hayward.

Today, Giizhik is an engaging young man of 14 years. He enjoys many hobbies including drawing, finding licensed collectibles, watching cartoons and movies. Some of his favorite animals are deer, rabbits, cats, and kangaroos. His cartoon favorites are Looney Toons, Tom & Jerry, and Ren and Stimpy.

Giizhik continues to use his artistic talents to reach and inspire others. He would like us to remember to revel in the smallest of joys and search for the hidden treasures in every child.

To learn more about the Waisman Center and Giizhik’s and Mino’s Holiday Cards for Autism,
Please visit:

It is our hope that with each dollar raised, we come one step closer to solving the autism puzzle, one card at a time.


Elias is a nice young man from Hayward, Wisconsin, who has anger issues associated to being on the Autism Spectrum. One way he calms himself is put the pencil to the paper, whether it be writing it out, or drawing pictures. Elias works hard on his drawings, sometimes starting over several times to get a particular design or facial expression how he wants it to look.

One of Elias’ passions is “gaming” – playing video games on his Xbox One and Wii. He enjoys being able to design the attire and gear his characters wear and use in these games. Often times spending more time designing than playing.

Elias is an active young man, who enjoys riding his bike. He hopes to get strong enough to ride to Duluth with his dad one day. Elias runs track & cross country for Hayward High School. Elias has a summer job of mowing lawns for his parents’ rentals as well as for the American Birkebeiner Foundation in Hayward. Elias says, “The people at the Birkie are always in a good mood.” which Elias likes, as he does not always feel his peers are as nice as adults. He is very articulate and often times is able to verbalize his thoughts into eloquent prose. He has no problem speaking in front of a crowd of people.


Carla is an energetic, friendly, curious woman who has faced and overcome many obstacles in her life. She is the youngest of eight children. She entered school with enthusiasm and interest, and a wonderful caring, skilled first grade teacher. That experience however did not last and after first grade and the support of such a skilled teacher she soon had to face the world of ?bullying, lack of teacher support, and teasing.

To make things more challenging, her mother was stricken with cancer when Carla was just seven years old. At that time her older sister came home to help with the young family and her mother died a year later.

Carla continued with her schooling getting help from Special Education Classes. She moved to Cable and attended Drummond Middle School and some High School. When she was in tenth grade she attended a Residential Treatment Center. This was very difficult for Carla. It was hard for her to be away from her family and the people she loved. The challenges for her at the Treatment Center did not help her in any way. She returned home at the age of eighteen, not having finished high school, and a lost soul. But, she didn’t give up. Through her many struggles and challenges, many of which are related to her diagnosis of autism, she has emerged a beautiful person.

Carla now lives in her own home, has her own yard care and dog care businesses, finishes and sells Diamond Willow Sticks, and is a dedicated member of the Cable Community. She helps her sister in their Garden plot at the Cable Community Garden and is a Chicken Tender.

She is a member of People First of the Northwoods, a State Board member of People First Wisconsin, has participated in Special Olympics WI and won many awards in Track, Swimming, Skiing and Basketball. We cannot overlook the interest she has in sports and is an avid, loyal Packer Fan. She is also a member of SMART…See My ART! She has participated in SMART Events for many years and exhibits year round in the SMART Gallery at The Rivers Eatery in Cable WI.

Some of Carla’s favorite things are visiting, observing nature, gardening, volunteering and helping others. She loves hunting and hunts with her friend Matt Schwantes and is so wanting that trophy deer!

Carla is supported by the Cable Community, St. Ann’s, her sister Cec, and IRIS.


April has lived in Washburn, Wisconsin most of her life. It is there that she works at the IGA grocery store and tirelessly gives of her time to Faith in Action, Big Top Chautauqua, and the Ashland Elementary School as a volunteer. In her free time, April loves hiking and spending time with her friends.

April’s primary medium of art is photography. For the past five years she has been developing her composition skills through photographing friends, family, spectacular scenery found in Northern Wisconsin, and the breathtaking images of the four seasons. April’s work has been shown at the Bayfield and Ashland County Fairs, M&I Bank, BMO Harris Bank, the Washburn Cultural Arts Center, and the Black Cat Coffee Shop in Ashland. She was the featured Artist of the Month at BMO Harris Bank in July, 2015. You can see examples of her photography here.


Charlie is a dedicated employee at Ventures, Unlimited and the Flat Creek Eatery in Hayward, WI. Charlie’s long-standing job at Ventures, Unlimited has brought praise from his supervisors, a true testimonial to his devotion and independence in his work. Charlie’s supervisors state he is detail oriented, professional, organized, motivated and accurate with his responsibilities as receptionist. In his own hand, Charlie shows how active he is in the community here.

Charlie’s wearable art work is reflective of his spiritual ties and personal dedication to his Ojibwa culture and to his Lac Courte Oreilles Tribal family. His use of richly colored beads, feathers and leather provides a simple and unique statement deeply rooted in Indian tradition.

Click here to see Charlie’s gallery.


Tony lives in Ashland, Wisconsin. He likes to take nature walks, go to the library and to the movies. He also likes to go out to eat with his parents and to pet animals. Tony has autism making it a challenge to understand what he’s feeling and how to express himself.

“I have always loved art. Now I work with my art teacher at the library and I do drawings and paintings. Art makes me feel better about myself. I use my art to communicate better with others and to help others understand people like me. We have a lot to give the world if given the chance.”

Tony hopes to keep showing his art in public places and on the SMART website.

Click here to see Tony’s gallery.


Floyd has been an artist for over 20 years. He enjoys drawing people and animals, especially wolves, bald eagles and chicken hawks. The subject of Floyd’s paintings are filled with natural color and Native American spiritual imagery. Those who look at Floyd’s art feel a sense of becoming free and moving to peaceful places.

“When my mother died, I painted two flowers over and over. Then the flowers turned into people with the flowers in their hands. Then I could finally talk about my mother’s moving on.”

Floyd is proud of his art and likes to know that people enjoy displaying his work in their homes and businesses.

Click here to see Floyd’s gallery.


My name is Karen. I’m 71 years old and I live with my family in Stone Lake. I’ve been an artist since I was 15 years old. I get anxious sometimes and art helps me relax. I have found I’m best at drawing birds and horses which you can see in most of my art work.

In my free time, along with working on art, I enjoy physical exercise such as dancing and taking long walks outdoors. I am an employee at Ventures Unlimited where I fold flyers and do many of the other jobs there.

In the future, I’d like to have greeting cards made from my paintings and I’d like to create more bird paintings to give as gifts. I love showing my paintings.

Click here to see Karen’s gallery.


Pam has lived in Hayward, Wisconsin all her life. She finds it hard to talk to people but she’s good at creating art.

“I’ve been an artist for 10 years. I meet with my art therapist on Wednesdays at First Lutheran Church. I like riding my bike to class in good weather. I really like deciding what to paint, doing art shows and selling my paintings and cards. It makes me feel good . . . I love art!”

Pam also likes to listen to music, visit friends and go shopping. She participates in Special Olympics, Fishing Has No Boundaries, she works at Ventures Unlimited and at an insurance company where she cleans offices.

Click here to see Pam’s gallery.


Brett lives in Watertown, Minnesota where he designs tattoos, plays poker and cracks jokes at the local watering hole. He aspires to win the World Series of Poker competition someday but for now plans to make ends meet by selling his art work.

“Five years ago I was involved in a car accident that changed my life. One day I was throwing long passes on the football field and playing disc golf and the next day I was in a coma. In the accident I hit my head on a tree and suffered a severe brain injury. I spent one month in a coma and three more months in the hospital. For three years I relearned how to walk, talk, eat and drink. In the last two years I’ve focused on becoming independent and learning skills to market myself and my art.”

Brett is determined to live life to the fullest and will not let physical challenges stop him. He attended college and took a class in computer graphics. He learned enough design skills to make his own graphic art.

To commission work or to purchase my designs, email me at You can also visit my Facebook page here.


Renee lives in Ashland, Wisconsin where she enjoys her nine beautiful grandchildren. Renee lives with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy causing her constant pain, difficulty sleeping and depression.

“I have thought about suicide many times in the past 12 years. Before art therapy I sat in my wheelchair looking out the window all day. I was always in a bad mood. I cried a lot and yelled at my family all the time. Things began to change when I started art therapy. I’m working with copper in making jewelry. It takes me two or three days to make something and it keeps my mind working and my memory strong.”

Renee is now experiencing stronger, positive relationships with her family. She has fun racing with her grandkids, she in her electric wheelchair and the kids on their bikes. She now looks forward to living. Now Renee looks out her window with an understanding that “no matter what each person is going through, they can take each day and see the beauty of life.”

Click here to see Renee’s gallery.


Deanna has always been artistic. She began creating hand-painted gift bags about ten years ago and now also paints ornaments. It takes Deanna two to three hours to paint a gift bag or ornament but the pleasure she takes in the process is what’s important to her. Her favorite subjects to paint are birds, cats, horses and portraits of people.

At seventeen, Deanna was diagnosed with schizophrenia causing her to hear voices. Her struggles with mental illness led her to strong Christianity that, she feels, protects her.

“Creating art is my favorite hobby. I feel like I’m more responsible by doing something during the day. I devote a minimum of two hours a day to work on my art to stay productive. I like doing things for others, like donating my income from selling gift bags to SMART, Inc. for others with disabilities.”

Click here to see Deanna’s gallery.


When Annika was six years old the doctor thought she had Lyme Disease. She was losing weight, she stopped growing and her eyes became sensitive to light. Her parents took her to University of Minnesota where doctors told them Annika had a brain tumor on her optic nerve.

“While on the operating table I had a stroke and was paralyzed on my right side. I was told I couldn’t walk again and was fitted for a wheelchair. Through therapy I relearned to walk, talk, eat and do everything with my left hand.”

Annika’s artistic passion is in drawing and painting. The subject matter of her work is eclectic and includes sports, wildlife, plants, and landscapes.

To order my original cards, please call (715) 294-0062 or email me at

Click here to see Annika’s gallery.


Cody is in his early twenties and lives in Washburn, Wisconsin. When asked what his disability is, his response is “nothing!” although he knows he has autism. He just doesn’t let that stop him. Cody lives with his parents and four dogs by Lake Superior. He has a brother studying speech pathology in graduate school in Minneapolis.

“I played the piano, drums and guitar in school. At home I play the drums and electric keyboard. I love to dance to my favorite music, classic rock and country. I have been an artist all my life using pencil, watercolor and acrylic paint to create pieces that are transportation related. I won an award in 2010 at the M&I Art Show.”

Cody is skilled in fixing mechanical things with his dad. He enjoys driving ATVs, boating, fishing and snowmobiling. He helps his parents around the house, is learning to cook, and has a great job in the community.

Cody is interested in taking more art classes and showing and selling his art.

Click here to see Cody’s gallery.


Ole has lived in Bayfield County, Wisconsin all of his life. He began studying and painting with a local art therapist at the age of twelve. Painting has helped Ole focus, concentrate, relax and release his creative energy. He enjoys the colors he paints with and sometimes creates a piece for someone special.

Ole’s art work expresses to others how he views the world. His paintings are vibrant with color, texture and movement. Ole has exhibited his work in many venues including Rivers Eatery in Cable, Washburn Cultural Center, Black Cat Cafe in Ashland, an Art Festival in Madison and the Disability Rights–Wisconsin offices.

In addition to art, Ole loves jazz and rock ‘n roll, nature, going for walks, bird watching and gardening. In the summer of 2014 Ole was honored with the title “Social Butterfly” at the Easter Seals Camp in the Wisconsin Dells.

To contact Ole about original paintings or to order his greeting cards, email him at:

Click here to see Ole’s gallery.


My name is Larry Olson.  I live in Ashland, Wisconsin.  I have an “intellectual disability” and I need my time structured for me.  I have been an artist for eight years, working with Sara Balbin at

the Vaughn Public Library.  I use paint on paper and on fabric.  I like to show my art to inspire others.  It shows people that I’m capable of doing something that I’m proud of.  My art is at the Rivers Eatery in Cable and the Vaughn Public Library in Ashland.  My sister has one of my paintings hanging in her office.

Besides art, I like to ride on a 4-wheeler with my dad and go camping with my family.  I go to church, and I volunteer at three different churches.  I also help with shredding paper in several offices.  In the summer, I like to ride on a paddle boat.  I also pick up litter in the parks for the City of Ashland.  I’m good at putting things in order.  I like to learn new things.

Click to see Larry’s Gallery

Larry Olson