ARTS & CULTURE
By Elizabeth Malcolm
In a community known for its commitment to arts and education, Stella Waugh-Stewart, age 13, should feel like less of an outsider. She’s academically successful and a talented artist.
Yet by the time she completed elementary school, Stella felt her artistic ability hadn’t been recognized. Her parents agreed that their daughter had been overlooked.
That will change, on Jan. 11, as Market Street Coffeehouse on Elliott Road in Chapel Hill launches Stella’s first public showing as a visual artist. The exhibit will open with a reception from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
“I’ve never really had my art truly appreciated by anyone but my family,” says Stella. “It’s nice for it to finally be appreciated by an authority. It’s nice to have my talent be recognized.”
Currently Stella is drawing her inspiration from a role playing video game called Undertale. Described in the game, created by TobyFox, as a “robot with soul,” for Stella, Mettaton has a quality she aspires to. Diagnosed with autism, Stella said she found herself in numerous situations throughout elementary school that made her feel vulnerable, particularly compared to her neurotypical peers.
Receiving fewer art awards was only part of her experience. “Ever since I started school people were always telling me I was doing something wrong or was bad at something,” says Stella. “In terms of Mettaton, I would say he’s much less vulnerable to that kind of stuff, and I would like to be also.”
When Stella’s stepmother, Julie Gardner, commented in a Facebook mothers’ group about Stella’s disappointment at not receiving art awards, another member of the group stepped in to help.
“When I saw the Facebook post about Stella being bummed that she wasn’t recognized with awards at school, I decided Market Street Coffeehouse could display her work and host an opening night show to celebrate Stella and her art,” said Sara Owens, general manager of the coffeehouse.
“We pride ourselves on being a friendly and community-oriented coffee shop, so I knew our customers would enjoy the chance to show Stella appreciation and see her artwork. She’s truly a talented artist, and it’s exciting to be part of helping her shine.”
Following the opening reception, which is open to the public, Stella’s art will remain up at Market Street Coffeehouse through the end of January and available to view during regular business hours. Market Street Coffeehouse is located at 227 S. Elliott Road in Chapel Hill.