The design is simple, but the intricate stories behind a piece of artwork created in Braselton include the heartbreaking and the uplifting. And come April, “Crazy Love” will be one of six international postal stamps distributed by the United Nations (U.N.) for autism awareness.

“The heart, for us, just keeps meaning something,” said Krista Goodrich, founder of Masterpiece Mixers.

Goodrich opened the South Hall art studio that hosts a variety of classes for groups and individuals in October 2009. Its classes are led by artists who show anyone — including those who have never held a paintbrush — how to create artwork.

Those participating in the step-by-step classes at Masterpiece Mixers create their own interpretation of a painting — such as “Fun and Funky Tree,” “Kid’s Candy” or “Monet Bridge.” Classes are available for children and adults.

But it was Goodrich’s sister — Kelli Salyer — who created one of the studio’s first paintings, “Crazy Love,” with a simple blue background and various colored strokes radiating from a heart.

Salyer created “Crazy Love” for Just People, a nonprofit organization for adults with developmental disabilities — such as Down syndrome, autism, Aspergers syndrome and learning disabilities. Salyer and Goodrich’s mother — Becky Dowling — established the agency in 1995 and family members have long been involved in the Norcross-based organization.

Just People now serves more than 220 high-functioning adults with developmental disabilities with programs that include independent living assistance, job development and training, social activities and sporting activities.

“In general, many of them drive, they work — they just need overseeing,” said Salyer, who is the vice president of corporate affairs for Just People.

Those clients in Just People are familiar faces at Masterpiece Mixers, which has studios in Braselton, Suwanee and Naples, Fla. The group frequently visits the art studio to paint creations based on a theme.

On Dec. 23, 2009, a group of clients from Just People were scheduled to arrive at the Masterpiece Mixers studio in Braselton to paint “Crazy Love.” Goodrich was waiting at the studio for the group, while Salyer was driving on Interstate 85 to meet them at Masterpiece Mixers.

The group was traveling in four busses when one of them was clipped by a Honda on I-85, near Pleasant Hill Road. That bus overturned and 14 passengers were ejected on to the interstate.

Salyer — delayed in traffic caused by the wreck — received a phone call from her mother about an accident involving one of the Just People buses. When she arrived on the scene, she found a number of the clients lying on the roadway.

Meanwhile, Goodrich — who was waiting at the art studio in Braselton — started receiving several phone calls about the horrific accident. At the time, Goodrich, who was hysterical, didn’t know which family members and staff from Just People may have been involved in the wreck. Another instructor at Masterpiece Mixers got Goodrich and drove her to the accident scene in Gwinnett County.

“When we came over the hill, to where you could see Pleasant Hill (Road) and I-85, there were no less than 10 helicopters — all the news crews — it was massive,” Goodrich said. “Traffic was stopped for three hours that day on I-85, which was huge because people were traveling for Christmas and last-minute shopping.”

Salyer said the paramedics arrived quickly on the scene and Goodrich said they were good at treating adults with disabilities. Both women said the Just People clients didn’t fully comprehend the severity of the accident or their injuries.

In one case, Salyer said the skin on the face of a client was peeled back during the wreck. She watched as paramedics carefully pulled the skin back together on the young adult. After that, the client asked Salyer about getting a laptop computer for Christmas — unaware of her serious facial injuries.

“And I just looked at her, and I said, “Honey, you’re going to be OK,’ but I was thinking to myself, ‘Holy cow, if that was my face …,” said Salyer, who found herself working along side paramedics in a triage effort on I-85.

Of the 14 passengers on the Just People bus — 13 clients and a bus driver — five were taken by helicopter to area hospitals. All but two people were also taken by ambulances to several hospitals.

Eight of the 14 passengers on the bus didn’t have family members involved in their lives, so those at Just People canceled their Christmas vacations to visit clients in hospitals.

The most severely-injured client in the accident spent four months in an intensive care unit suffering from massive internal injuries. She — and all of the other passengers — survived the devastating wreck.

“They should not have lived,” Goodrich said.

The woman driving the Honda that clipped the Just People bus initially stopped after the accident, but fled the scene, according to Gwinnett County police. The 32-year-old driver was later arrested and charged with multiple counts of felony hit and run, DUI, reckless driving and causing serious injuries.

A month after the accident, the group of Just People clients that were initially on its way to Masterpiece Mixers to create “Crazy Love” in Braselton visited the studio to paint the heart design. One of the paintings included a stroke by each client and was given to the severely-injured patient still in ICU at the time.

‘Crazy Love’ Spreads

The story of the “Crazy Love” painting then continues to Naples, Fla., where a franchise of Masterpiece Mixers had opened. Like its studios in Georgia, the store in Florida welcomes nonprofit groups to paint creations and participates in fundraisers.

One day, the operator of that art studio received a phone call in which she learned that a young boy in a group of autistic customers that had been visiting Masterpiece Mixers had suddenly died the previous night.

The day before his funeral, the group that was with the boy came to Masterpiece Mixers to create “Crazy Love.” Like the Just People clients in Georgia, the Florida group had each member paint a stroke in memory of the boy. The painting was then placed in his casket.

After that, the parents of a 19-year-old autistic woman that visits the Naples art studio — Hannah Rose Kandel — asked Masterpiece Mixers in Braselton for the right to submit a painting of “Crazy Love” in a contest.

At the time, Goodrich didn’t know what the contest was for — and easily gave approval for the submission. A month, the U.N. sent Masterpiece Mixers an e-mail saying that Kandel’s painting of “Crazy Love” had been chosen as a stamp to recognize autism awareness.

The U.N. will issue the six stamps on World Autism Day on April 2. The designs were chosen after a worldwide search of submissions from those with autism.

Kandel’s parents, Dr. Joseph and Merrylee Kandel, started early interventions to address her autism when she was 18 months old. She has learned how to communicate and now speaks about her personal experiences.

“I dream that I will become a preschool teacher, teach the little kids and become a Hollywood actress,” Hannah Kandel said in a statement issued by the U.N. “I believe that I will live independently, get married and have children someday. I have completed 14 years of my education and learned and achieved many goals in my life. As my family says, ‘Dream it, believe it, achieve it!’.”

For Masterpiece Mixers, “Crazy Love” has become its signature painting. The American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life and the Special Olympics have also used the design.

The art studio is selling “Crazy Love” paintings for $25 each and will donate $10 for autism awareness. Masterpiece Mixers will also teach the “Crazy Love” painting during a class at its Braselton and Suwanee locations on Saturday, Feb. 4, from 10 a.m. to noon.

Both Goodrich and Salyer live in Hoschton. Salyer, who is the mother of four young children, also works at Masterpiece Mixers on a part-time basis.

Masterpiece Mixers is located on in the Duncan’s Corner Shopping Center, at the intersection of Spout Springs Road and Thompson Mill Road. For more information, or to register for the class, visit www.masterpiecemixers.com.

For more information about Just People, visit www.justpeople.org.

The United Nations stamps promoting autism awareness will go on sale on April 2. For more information, visit unstamps.un.org.

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