The art of Sofia LeJeune, a 10-year-old legally blind and autistic child artist from McKinney, Texas was on display from December 2018 to Jan. 14 at the UMHB Baugh Center for the Visual Arts. Sofia’s interest in art began when she was just 18 months old, and she has been creating ever since.
During a phone interview, Sofia was more than happy to share about her life and her passion for art. She says that it is a great way to “…express your feelings, it looks pretty,” and it’s a “…good way to impress people.”
Her mother, Rebeca Gracia, shared the details about how Sofia’s condition has developed over time.
“She was severely autistic when she was younger. We have been using natural therapies… for the past five years with great success. Now, she is high functioning, and we thought we would see how she likes public school,” Gracia said.
After being homeschooled since the start of her education, Sofia began her first year of public school in 2018.
“Sofia’s vision impairment originates in the brain, not the eye. [It] has several components: nystagmus, which is improving, decreased acuity, which has remained the same, and astigmatism, which has worsened since starting public school,” Gracia said.
In relation to Sofia’s talents, Gracia said that Sofia’s school does not have a strong art program, so it brings her daughter joy when people share an interest in art and talk to her about her artwork.
Sofia said that she tried her hand at pottery and made some books with a lady named Helen. She was talking about Helen Kwiatkowski, who teaches book arts, photography and design here at UMHB.
Although Sofia has experimented with various media and subjects, her preference is for drawing animals of all kinds. Using simple pencils and any scratch paper she can find, she creates lively illustrations through contour lines and expression.
Sofia was recently diagnosed as legally blind but has struggled with her vision for a while. She described her vision as, “kinda good, kinda bad.” She can see to draw up close but has a very hard time seeing far away.
Aside from her artistic hobbies, she, like most third graders, finds additional joy in a large array of things. Her favorite subject in school other than art is, as she said, “Science! Science! Science!”
Sofia has also been participating in mixed martial arts for two years and is delighted to share that she has just earned her yellow belt. She also enjoys playing games inside and outside, like checkers, Go Fish and playing pretend.
She shows pure excitement when she talks about the fun times she has on her great-grandmother’s farm, where she helps take care of the cows, including the cow she named ‘Cuddles.’
Sofia has some advice for other young artists who struggle with their performance.
“Keep trying,” she said. “Get a little more practice and ask for help.”