December 17, 2002
Mobility lost but not creativity

Special to The Clarion-Ledger
Visitors to Methodist Rehabilitation Center's gift shop have known for years that Jerry Hymel is a very talented man.

(Joe Ellis/The Clarion-Ledger)
Artist Jerry Hymel of Raymond displays a replica of a stained glass mockingbird ornament he created for the 24-foot-tall Christmas tree in the White House. Artists from around the country are commissioned each year to craft ornaments for the tree.

Now the president and first lady know it, too.
Hymel is a master at crafting things in stained glass. He was chosen by Gov. Ronnie Musgrove as one of six Mississippi artists to create an ornament for the 24-foot-tall Christmas tree that stands in the Blue Room of the White House.
Artists from around the country are commissioned each year to craft ornaments that represent each state in the union. First lady Laura Bush oversees the project.

Hymel's spinal cord was injured when a tree fell on him in 1979. He has spent the past two decades creating everything from handheld angels to stained glass church windows. As a patient at Methodist Rehab, he wanted to return to community college teaching, but said he realized a change of lifestyle was necessary.

In 1982, he started working with stained glass when some friends mentioned a night class they were hosting. His first piece was an Iris he made for his wife, Paula. It hung in her office for a day before someone offered to buy it. Hymel realized he was on to something.

Visitors to Methodist Rehab's gift shop say they love his work, too.

"Jerry was our first artist," said Terri McKie, the gift shop's manager and curator of Methodist Rehab's art gallery where the talents of physically challenged artists from around Mississippi are displayed. "His glass is of the highest quality. We probably sell more of it than anything else."

Washington has called Hymel before. In 1995, he designed a series of snowflake ornaments for the Mississippi tree in the Ellipse, a park in front of the White House.

For the White House Christmas tree, Hymel was commissioned to create a stained glass mockingbird. "The mockingbird just isn't the prettiest bird out there, so we used some black iridescent glass to jazz it up a little," Hymel said.

While at the White House, the Hymel and his wife were treated like royal guests, he said. "Each year military servicemen are chosen to host events like this during the holidays," he said. "The food and the hospitality were just amazing."

Afterward, the Hymels had their picture taken with Laura Bush.

"She made us feel like the only people who had ever visited the White House. She was gracious and kind," Jerry Hymel said. "It was something I'll never forget."

A walk through the White House with the first lady is a long way from where Hymel started in 1982. At his first arts show in Raymond, Hymel sat and watched as folks walked past.

"At the end of the day, we were getting ready to leave when two ladies walked over to me and asked me if I made church windows," he recalled. "Well, what would you have told them?"

An artist was born.