Adam Kolp has not always had his eyesight, but the New Albany Middle School art teacher always had a vision and a passion for his artwork.

Adam Kolp has not always had his eyesight, but the New Albany Middle School art teacher always had a vision and a passion for his artwork.

"I think going through the experience of having vision, and then losing it, and then gaining it back ... kind of helped slow things down for me," Kolp said. "I learned to appreciate the little things and find the art in just about anything around us."

He said painting something as "simple a bee" was an example.

"There's a bit of passion in painting a bee, something I can appreciate now," he said. "Before it's something I wouldn't even think of. I appreciate every little aspect that surrounds us and makes up our lives."

Vision loss

Kolp, 36, said he started drawing at 2 years old and it developed into a passion for art.

He started having vision problems in middle school, when he was diagnosed with keratoconus, a degenerative eye disease that causes the corneas to change shape.

Kolp said the disorder is not genetic and he retained his eyesight through high school, though it began to deteriorate rapidly after he graduated in 1997 from Westerville South High School.

"I think it was part of my second or third year of college that I lost my vision, lost my driving privileges and couldn't read a book or even cut my own toenails," he said.

At the time, Kolp was enrolled as an art major at Otterbein University.

"The best way to visualize it is like looking through a piece of frosted glass, with all the shapes and colors but no detail," he said.

Though he never had to use a guide dog or a cane, Kolp said, he eventually had to drop most of his classes.

"At its worst, I kind of had to drop out of all classes other than art," he said. "I still managed to make artwork throughout that time and that really was the only reason I was able to stay enrolled."

Kolp does not recall all the details, but getting to and from class at Otterbein was not easy.

"I grew up in Westerville, close to Otterbein, and, thinking back now, I'm not sure how I managed to do it; I still walked to class," he said.

Kolp said he relied heavily on his family and friends, but he is sad to say that many people who might have waved to him when walking by probably didn't get a response from him.

"The hardest part was still being out and about and I would still see people but I wouldn't be able to tell who they were," he said. "Friends would be walking toward me saying, 'Hi,' or waving. People probably thought I was rude, not waving or saying anything back. They couldn't tell that I had a problem. I didn't walk around with my hands out, looking like a zombie or anything."

A gift of clarity

Cornea transplants were the only available treatment for Kolp's keratoconus.

"They put me on the transplant list, which was pretty nerve-racking at the time," Kolp said. "They say they don't want to build your hopes up too much and it can take days or months to wait for a donor.

"For my first cornea transplant, they called me the next day. It was a shock and a sudden, kind of eye-opening realization, no pun intended, that I was going to get my vision back."

Because there was a risk his eye would reject the new cornea, Kolp said, he could have only one eye done that year.

The following year, he received another transplant and regained his full vision.

"It was a really difficult experience to go through," Kolp said. "But at this point in my life I actually have to say I'm glad that it happened because I think it really helped sculpt and mold who I am as an artist."

Kolp hopes his first solo art show will allow people to understand how he has transformed as an artist. Titled "A Gift of Clarity," the show is scheduled to open in March at Hayley Gallery, 270 E. Main St. in New Albany.

"It's mostly new stuff," he said. "A lot of the paintings, or a handful, are modeled after the time in my life where I lost my vision. There is a series of very blurred images, blurred lights, that kind of are like a glimpse back into what that experience was like.

"I thought it would make sense in one cohesive show, arranging the pieces almost as a progression, with blurry landscapes to the right, and clarity will start to come into the picture as the paintings become more detailed, more crisp and clear."

Kolp said he would be at the opening of the show from 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday, March 7. It will be open through March 31.

New perspectives

Kolp is busy with children in both his professional life and private life.

He ended up teaching at New Albany Middle School after graduating from Otterbein with a bachelor's degree in art in 2002 and deciding to pursue a teaching certificate, which he earned in 2005.

Kolp said he was a student teacher at New Albany Middle School prior to earning his teaching certificate and moved into a long-term substitute position before being hired full time in 2005.

"I'm very happy that I took all the art classes first because I think that gave me a good background," he said. "I love teaching and think it's a nice mixture of both of my passions.

"It's hard for me to call teaching work. It's kind of like doing artwork. It's hard to call that work because I enjoy it so much."

Just as losing and regaining his vision changed his appreciation for art, working with children has also changed Kolp's focus on art.

"Middle school students are so eager," he said. "They always have an overabundance of energy and they push you to be better.

"They really inspire you to put everything you can into your art lessons. Since I started teaching, my artwork has grown. It's pushed me to get better."

Meanwhile, Kolp and his wife, Heather, live in Columbus and have two sets of twins: fourth-graders Hadley and Gretchen and kindergartners Delaney and Addison, all of whom attend New Albany schools.

Kolp said he met Heather at Otterbein after he had lost his vision.

"I met her when I was blind," Kolp said. "I met her at a party, at a get-together. Then, recently after our first meeting, I had my first transplant. A month or two after the transplant, our paths crossed again and our relationship started.

"So the very first time I met her, I didn't really see her."

Heather was a sociology major who now teaches violin lessons in their home.

"My biggest thanks I guess would be to my wife, Heather," Kolp said. "She has been an incredible help with this whole experience. She's my manager of my art career and has been really helpful and inspiring."

Inspiring is how Hayley Deeter, owner of Hayley Gallery, describes Kolp.

"Adam is so inspiring to me because he overcame a medical adversity that could have easily ended his dream to be an artist," she said. "He could have given up and abandoned his passion but he didn't. He used this adversity to actually fuel his love to paint, proving that to some, giving up is simply not an option."