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Budding Artist Berkeley Wilkins Inspires Local Community

The gifted artist, actor and musician shares his story

Berkeley Wilkins has something that most young artists don’t: a visual impairment. As far as he’s concerned, his eye disease is just a blip on the radar of his artistic abilities.

“I can still see what other people see,” the 12-year-old said. “If people hadn’t told me that I had an eye disease, I would never have guessed that because I would just think everybody saw this way. That’s how most people think.”

His parents, James and Kim, first noticed their son’s vision was impaired when he was four-years-old. His doctor has not found anyone else with his degenerative eye disease and has named it “Berkeley’s Retinopathy.”

After four laser eye surgeries throughout his childhood, Wilkins developed a cataract and has frequent blood clots. His cataract has worsened but his vision has not, allowing him to fully enjoy his artistic pursuits.

“I’m a fan of the arts,” he said. “But I think I figured out my love for painting and drawing first.”

The Wilkins’ home near Lake Barcroft is filled to the brim with framed pieces of their son’s artwork, mostly from the past four years. His parents are both thrilled with the level of professionalism in his work.

Mark Cavich of local design company Cavich Creative is a family friend who is also very impressed with Wilkins' art.

“Berkeley works wonders with his sense of composition and strong use of color,” Cavich said. “From my point of view, the highlights of his talents stem from his ability to work with visual impairment. Moreover, to use it as a catalyst for bold forms, line work and color. I have yet to see anything timid about Berkeley and his art.”

Wilkins takes classes at the Art League in Alexandria and has even done commissioned work. A portion of the proceeds from all of his sales goes to the Foundation Fighting Blindness.

Most recently, he considered displaying and selling his work at Annandale coffee shop Beanetics. His parents are hesitant to sell his work but the young entrepreneur has the perfect solution.

“I suggest that we make copies of my work and then we can keep the originals and sell the copies,” he said.  

When he’s not creating or selling artwork, Wilkins is developing his acting skills. The sixth-grader at Glasgow Middle School played famous radio host Bert Healy in Annie last December. This weekend, he’s performing in Creative Cauldron’s musical, Madeline and the Gypsies.

Wilkins plays a clown and a gypsy in this children’s play. Almost every performance in the show’s three-weekend run has sold out. Madeline and the Gypsies has received so much support from the local community that Creative Cauldron even decided to add an extra show on Sunday afternoon.

Creative Cauldron founder and producing director Laura Hull worked with Wilkins from kindergarten until third grade in an after-school drama program at Sleepy Hollow Elementary School.

“He was already brimming with creative ideas and ready to jump in and imagine characters and stories,” Hull said. “Now years later, he's playing a mischievous clown among other roles in our current production of Madeline and the Gypsies. It's great fun to see how much he has grown as a performer. Even at such a young age, he has great instincts, especially for comedy.”

Wilkins said he will try out for the musical at Glasgow next year and plans to sign up for advanced theater in seventh grade. When asked which he enjoys more, acting or painting and drawing, he said that he’s right in the middle.

“I just like to consider this as one of the eight keys of excellence that we have at school,” he said. “They’re keys to life and one of them is 'balanced.' I consider this to be balanced.”

The young Renaissance man has also been playing piano since he was five-years-old, or in his words, “for more than half of my life.” He recently learned how to play Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and the Peanuts’ theme song, “Linus and Lucy.”

His piano teacher Kate O’Leary said that Wilkins thrives on the artistic ability to perform in front of his family and friends.

“Berkeley is extremely gifted in the arts,” O’Leary said. “He has a passion that you don't find in most children. He is a perfectionist and has a work ethic that some adults could learn from. His talents consistently bring a smile to your face and warm your soul.”

Wilkins said he isn’t sure of his plans for the future yet because he has many interests and isn’t sure which one he likes best. But regardless of which art form he pursues, there’s no question that his life will be rich with artistic accomplishments.

“I look forward to many more years of development in Berkeley’s art,” Cavich said. “He seems to really enjoy the process which, to me, is the most important flame to keep lit.”

Contact Berkeley Wilkins directly for information about artwork available for purchase and commissions at heyberke@gmail.com.

Erin Clancy March 24, 2012 at 12:49 PM
Go Berkeley!! You rock

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