Emerging artist Katie Henderson, 30, may have been born with Down Syndrome, but that hasn’t stopped her from following her passion as a fashion illustrator. Far from it. In fact, against all odds, Henderson’s career has flourished ever since she first put pen to paper almost a decade ago.
“You know I can’t pinpoint exactly when it started,” Henderson’s mother, Ruth, told me. “What we discovered was, when we moved to Florida [in 2004], Katie [who had grown up in Lake Ridge, Virginia] didn’t have all her friends. So at that point we called the Ability Resident Center (ARC) in St. Lucie [Florida] and Katie began going, and doing various activities there.”
“One day, years later [in 2008] I picked her up and they told me she had been named Artist of the Month,” Ruth recalls. “We didn’t even know she could draw!”
It turns out that Katie had been steadfastly teaching herself to draw for years. “She’s always had an interest in fashion and fashion design…you know always watching Project Runway and the Devil Wears Prada,” Ruth told me. “She kept telling me she wanted to do her own design so we picked up a fashion illustration book for her to look at at the book store.”
“What we discovered later on was that she was taking that book and she had traced all the illustrations. I must have a good 12-15 inches of paper of just those illustrations,” Ruth says. “I didn’t know what she was doing, I was just getting her tracing paper and she’d go into her room and do her own thing.”
Once Katie had mastered tracing the designs, she began drawing freehand. Shortly after that, she completed three watercolors of posing models at the ARC–the work that lead to her being named Artist of the Month and brought her talent to the attention of her parents. After that, Ruth did everything she could to help Katie grow and expand her artistic talent. She bought her sketchbooks and colored pencils and enrolled her in an art group. “The art instructor he kept trying to get Katie to do landscapes, but she just wouldn’t,” Ruth says. “She only wanted to draw fashion.” And so they went with it.
“Eventually it got to the point…Katie wanted to have a business. She always wanted to be an entrepreneur,” Ruth said, adding with a laugh, “She came to her dad and told him to be an entrepreneur and give her some money!” When the National Special Olympics Golf Tournament offered to let Katie sell her merchandise, which, at that point involved silk-screened t-shirts of her illustrations, the Hendersons found themselves at a crossroads: They wanted to agree to the opportunity, but doing so would mean spending time and money. They weren’t sure how to proceed–until a lucky break (or divine intervention) came along.