Serving Winnipeg's Jewish Community Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google BookmarksSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedIn Youtube

Steve Adam GoetzeBy BERNIE BELLAN
Not too long ago we were contacted by someone named Hannah Lyttle, who invited us to come down to the Forks to view works of art in an exhibition that was titled “Art, Emotion, and Autism”.

As it was described on a leaflet that was handed out at the exhibition, the works on display “were produced by students and community members with autism spectrum disorder…Each piece reflects the artists’ unique interpretations of the various emotions they explored.”
When I went down to the Forks to see the exhibition, Hannah told me that she herself was a Grade 11 student at College Jeanne Sauvé in the Louis Riel School Division. This past school year, she said, she had been helping students who are autistic, ages 14-25, learn how to express their emotions through art in a program offered at Nelson McIntyre Collegiate. Hannah was mentoring the students at Nelson Mac as part of a program called PROPEL, which stands for Project Based Learning. The program at Nelson Mac is an interdivisional program, open to students from any school division and, according to Hannah is “a permanent fixture” at that school.
While I was somewhat interested in the invitation that Hannah sent us to come down to the Forks, what really whetted my appetite to attend was when she added that three of the artists whose work would be exhibited happened to be Jewish. It’s not that I didn’t find her invitation intriguing to start with – it just made me more curious to find out more about the three artists who happened to be both autistic and Jewish.
The term “autism” covers a very wide range of behaviours . Readers of this paper may be familiar with Adam Schwartz, who writes occasionally for us and who often describes his own condition, which he’s referred to as having “Asperger’s Syndrome”. Apparently, however, what is now referred to as “Autism Spectrum Disorder” (ASD) covers a wide range of autistic behaviours (including Asperger’s) and is an all-encompassing term that is used to describe a condition that is characterized, “in varying degrees, by communication difficulties, social and behavioural challenges, and repetitive behaviours and is considered to be a lifetime disorder.” Someone with Asperger’s would now be considered as being “high-functioning” autistic.
I mention all this as a preamble to what I found when I actually went down to the Forks to see the exhibition to which I had been invited by Hannah Lyttle. My attention was immediately drawn to several drawings that were hanging apart from the majority of the works that were on exhibit. These drawings were of an extraordinarily high quality. When I asked Hannah whether those drawings were produced by students who were in her class at Nelson Mac, she told me they weren’t, but they were created by two of the Jewish artists to whom she had referred in her email.
As it turns out, some of those drawings were the work of a 14-year-old student by the name of Adam Goetze, whose mother, Janet Pelletier, is a teacher in the Pembina Trails School Division. A colleague of Janet’s had told her about the upcoming exhibition and when inquiries were made of Hannah Lyttle to see whether she’d also like to include works of art by Adam – and his father, Steve, she agreed.
I asked Hannah if she could attempt to put me in touch with Steve and Adam Goetze. I told her that I would very much like to meet them, and wondered if she could contact them for me to see whether they’d be willing to be interviewed by me. Hannah followed up on my request and a couple of days later I received an email from Steve, inviting me to meet him and Adam at Temple Shalom a few days later.
I wasn’t quite sure why it was at Temple Shalom that Steve had asked me to meet with them – until I arrived there on the appointed day and met the two of them. As it turns out, Steve is not only a brilliant artist – in more than one medium, he is also extremely mechanically gifted and is the all-round maintenance man at Temple Shalom. As a matter of fact, when he brought me into his workshop, he had an entire array of machinery there that, he explained to me, he uses to maintain just about everything in the synagogue.
But, I wondered: Was Steve actually Jewish? As we sat down to talk, Steve described how he came to have a Jewish connection, although technically he’s not Jewish. He said that his ancestral family is known to have fled the Spanish Inquisition and found refuge in the Austrian Empire – which covered a wide swath of Europe at one time. It was there that the family came under the protection of someone whose name was “Goetze” – and adopted that name for its own. In the 1700s the family emigrated to England. One of Steve’s ancestors was an English artist of some renown by the name of Sigismund Goetze, Steve told me.
Not only does Steve have a Jewish connection through his ancestry, it also turns out that his wife, the aforementioned Janet Pelletier, might be known to many of our readers as one of the talented members of the “Friday Night Live” band that performs at Temple Shalom once a month. Janet, whose story we have told in a previous issue, was adopted out to a non-Jewish family when she was just an infant, but who ultimately discovered that her father was actually a member of the famed Boroditsky clan, hence her musical ability. In fact, one of her cousins, she discovered, is Len Udow, the cantor at Temple Shalom.
But, to return to Steve’s story, he told me that he grew up in Brantford, Ontario. I asked him whether he was aware that he was autistic when he was younger. He said that he didn’t know what was wrong with him – he just knew he was different. Steve’s nickname at school, he said to me, was “Mr. Spock” – of Star Trek fame, because of his flat affect when speaking. Like many other children diagnosed with autism, Steve said he had few friends at school.
Yet, Steve did have an amazing artistic ability and following high school he attended Sheridan College in Oakville, where he studied “classical animation”. Upon graduating he worked for a time for the famous Hannah-Barbera cartooning studio but discovered that wasn’t for him. Following that first foray into the art world, Steve explained, “I turned down a lot of options because I didn’t like dealing with people.”
I asked Steve what other symptoms he might exhibit that would be considered indicative of autism. He said that he “obsesses about whether he’s locked things up” and he “used to repeat everything he was told.” As well, he noted to me, he “tended to overanalyze” things, which, Steve explained, is symptomatic of an “anxiety disorder” typical of people with autism.
Steve, who is now 53, wasn’t actually diagnosed as being autistic until he was in his 40s. He explained that he was diagnosed as being autistic at the same time that son, Adam, was also diagnosed as being autistic. Until that point, he revealed, “his ability to control and alter my interactions with people were the result of years of trial and error, (mostly error), to appear neurotypical. I have had to and continue to work hard to appear ‘normal’. My work in animation and theatre have made me a rather good actor.”
Steve added that he now takes medication to “control the symptoms of anxiety and depression associated with autism.” At the same time though, autism has given Steve a unique gift when it comes to his art. For instance, he mentioned that when he is sculpting, “If I’m working on a sculpture, I build the entire thing in my head” before he begins to pick up a sculpting tool.
As well, Steve’s training as an animator has allowed him to make use of some of the sophisticated technological tools that computers can provide artists. Much of his work is developed initially on his iPad, where he produces preliminary sketches of what he will later produce, which is usually a combination of plaster and acrylics.
When I asked him how much his paintings sell for, Steve revealed, to my astonishment, that he’s never been much good at promoting his own work and he’s sold very few of his own paintings. The ones that he has sold have been mostly to friends, he told me. (If you would like to see some of Steve’s paintings, you could contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)
Turning to Steve’s 14-year-old son Adam, who was sitting restlessly nearby as I interviewed his father – while Adam is also considered to be high functioning on the autism spectrum, he indicated to me that he’s well aware how different he is from others in his age group. “Sometime I hear voices, see things,” he said to me. “I see little devils,” he added.
Although Adam is taking medication to help keep those hallucinations under control, he admitted that it’s been a challenge. In some ways his art helps him to deal with the nightmarish visions that appear to him, he said.
As the leaflet accompanying the “Art, Emotion & Autism” exhibition at the Forks noted, ”People understand the world through their senses, which includes what they see, hear, touch, and smell. It also includes how one interacts with other people. People with autism use these same tools, but it is sometimes harder for them to understand what their senses are telling them.”

Add comment


Security code
Refresh