Cheri Blackerby

Who Was Cheri Blackerby?

by Kristi Ash
Gallery and Studio Director

My aunt, Cheri Blackerby, was born in Eureka in 1950. She was born with strawberry blonde hair, blue eyes and a developmental disability. Aunt Cheri grew up in a small house in the hills above Rio Dell with two sisters, a brother, cows, pigs, horses, goats, dogs, cats, sheep and many chickens. Cheri’s mom (my grandma) and one tail-less cat still live in this house today.

Aunt Cheri was twenty years old when I was born. When I was little, we spent many hours drawing and painting together. Cheri loved art. She especially loved to paint people, tulips and turkeys.

After graduating from college I moved to San Francisco where I saw an art program for people with developmental disabilities called Creativity Explored. I noticed that the artists who attended the program loved it and that it gave them a free place to express themselves.

Two years later, when I moved back to Humboldt County, I continued to spend time with Aunt Cheri. A lot of this time was still spent drawing and painting. In the past Cheri had some bad experiences at school and at day programs, so my grandma decided that she shouldn’t attend them anymore because she loved her and wanted her to be safe. This made me sad because Cheri loved to be around people – to talk, laugh, sing and tell stories with them. She had a way of making people feel happy and loved when they were around her.

I also noticed that a lot of other people with developmental disabilities with whom I worked didn’t have a place where they could express themselves creatively. It was this desire to provide a safe, supportive and artistic environment for Aunt Cheri and others that caused my friend Lori Smith and I to start a small art program called The Studio, loosely based on Creativity Explored.

Aunt Cheri was the first person to sign up to attend The Studio. She loved coming here, and created hundreds of paintings and drawings. Her first art show, complete with pizza, pink cake and music, was one of her favorite times. Eight years after she began coming, Cheri passed away from Lou Gehrig’s Disease. I still miss her everyday, but her legacy lives on at The Studio as well as the gallery that opened several months after her death. The artists and teachers at The Studio decided to name the gallery after her, and the Cheri Blackerby Gallery is now Humboldt County’s only gallery for visionary and outsider art.

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