Dustin Overgaard is fearless.
That's the best way to describe how he lives his life, said Opportunity Resources art program director Tom Lind.
That's also how Lind describes his artistic abilities.
Overgaard's paintings are vibrant and his now-steady right hand helps make beautiful pottery. A skiing accident 18 years ago hasn't stopped him from one of his favorite activities.
In 1998, Overgaard, then 27 years old, was a chef at the now-closed Spanish Peaks Restaurant in Bozeman, he ran laser light shows at the Museum of the Rockies and he was a radio DJ. He suffered permanent brain damage after striking a ski lift support pole at Bridger Bowl Ski Area.
But he still skis.
And he still creates pottery and paintings.
Anywhere from 60 to 70 artists regularly work in Opportunity Resources' art department. Including drop-ins, there are about 150 artists.
This fall, a new partnership formed between the art department’s Three-Handed Pottery and Bitterroot Flower Shop south of the Hip Strip in Missoula. The shop takes all the pottery it can get from Opportunity's artists, and it consistently sells out.
"So many people with disabilities have these hidden gifts," Lind said. "And they have no inhibitions when it comes to painting.
"They give a beautiful, unfiltered look. Once we exposed that, this became a very popular program."
One morning in November, Overgaard finished a planter that soon would be on its way to the flower shop to fulfill its latest order.
After a pot is finished, they wait four days for it to dry. Then it's into the kiln and another week before it's glazed.
"If we make six a day, we'll catch up to that order," Lind said.
Walk in to Bitterroot Flower and head into the room on the right. You'll see a wall covered with beautiful pots made by Three-Handed Pottery, a card at the bottom of each pot telling you more about the artist.
"It's an awesome partnership because we're selling as much as the mainstream art, and sometimes more," said Amanda Krolczyk, who also works in Opportunity’s art department and helps the artists. "And we're selling it not as artists with disabilities."
While they get requests, the artists typically have free range to make whatever they want. The pottery side is called Three-Handed Pottery because they use a staff member's two hands and one of the artist's hands to create a piece.
While Overgaard can't use his left hand, his right hand is strong, meaning he's able to center the pot and give it a beautiful lip – so long as he doesn't get distracted, Lind said.
"That never happens," Overgaard said with a grin.
When Lind started seven years ago, Opportunity's art department was a tiny room with three chairs – "like traffic on Reserve Street," he said. That year they sold about $1,000 worth of art. Last year, the artists raked in $24,000 selling pottery and paintings.
"I suspect next year we'll eclipse that," Lind said.
And he hopes the art department continues to expand, hopefully next with screen-printing and another full-time staff member. Today, they have three full-time and two part-time staff.
When Lind was a professional potter, he had an account with Bitterroot Flower. As Opportunity started looking for partnerships this year, he remembered the great experience he had with the flower shop and called them up.
"We wanted to go see the pots, so me and a few others took a field trip," said Bitterroot Flower plant manager Heather Springer. "All of the pottery was just beautiful and the glazes were amazing. It was great to see it first-hand.
"It's amazing how their faces light up. They're so happy."
Sales have been strong since August. "They keep us busy," Lind said. The shop has sold 350 to 400 pieces in the past few months, Springer said, and they get about 80 to 100 pieces per shipment per month.
"We have people come in specifically for Opportunity Resources," she said. "They're beautiful and they're not as expensive as other pots. A lot of people want to support Opportunity Resources."
Lind joked around with Overgaard one morning, saying he shares the record with fellow artist Bobbi Rockford for the pounds of glaze they've gotten on Lind's shoes.
"He is fearless when he glazes," Lind said of Overgaard.
Red and pink are his favorite colors when he glazes, "because I'm a guy and I love pink," Overgaard said, showing off a pink bracelet that proved his point.
The artists do most of the painting on their own.
"It's very rare that we would touch their brush," Lind said.
"They don't worry about what people think when they paint. The average person overthinks it, but for them it just comes straight out."
Their work is sold in Opportunity's lobby, and also online at orimt.org/ori-store.html. They're in Missoula’s MADE fairs every winter and summer. Their work is showcased in Opportunity's calendar.
Overgaard painted horses for a while, inspired by his time at Faith Therapeutic Riding Service.
His painting featured in the 2017 calendar is vibrant, with splashes of color exploding across the canvas.
"He gets all these colors in and they never turn to mud," Lind said, admiring the piece.
It can be an emotional experience for the artists. Brad Williamson is non-verbal, and he can only move his thumb, "but he's as smart as anyone in this room," Lind said.
When Williamson saw his finished work, a digital painting with swirls of bright colors, he cried, Lind said.
"It's all about opening that window so people don't just see the disability," Lind said.