“My Peoples” Art | THE FIRST 100

Lisha Henkhaus Mack & Alex Mack

One thing I’ve learned over the years is life doesn’t always turn out the way you planned but instead can be so much better! I was born and raised in Tyler and had an idyllic upbringing including marrying my high school sweetheart but as it turned out that life was not meant to be. Eventually I married a wonderful man, Chris Mack, from Longview and we had a daughter, Alex, born with Down syndrome. Was this the life meant to be for me? Oh, YES!!! If I had known then what I know now not a single tear would have been shed. The blessings that have come from raising a child with Down syndrome are far too many to count. Let’s just say that those of us parents in the same boat call ourselves “the lucky few” for a reason.

Alex attended public school and was always in full inclusive education. We wanted her to experience the “real world” and at the same time not place typical societal barriers on her. We always exposed her to situations that would allow her to soar to her full potential. As it turned out that included going to college. Alex is now a senior at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in the LIFE program (Learning Is For Everyone). These students with intellectual disabilities take a combination of regular university classes with a mentor along with classes specific to the LIFE students. Alex and her fellow students are fully included and encouraged to get involved with extracurricular campus organizations and you can bet that Alex has taken full advantage of this. She once told me that she might have to drop out of the LIFE program because Tri Delta was going to take up so much of her time!

I tend to focus on the next life stage for Alex, so in 2020 I began to think about what she would do after college to provide a meaningful way of supporting herself. From the time Alex could hold a pencil she began drawing her stylized stick figures she later named “My Peoples”.  Many people with Down syndrome do some form of self-talking and this became Alex’s version where she draws her figures while telling imaginative stories out loud. The stories change but the characters in them are typically friends and cousins. Alex’s earliest drawings were in her nursery books but eventually she used spiral notebooks she calls “journals” and over the years she has filled thousands with her drawings. My lightbulb moment occurred when I thought of a way to take Alex’s passion for drawing her “My Peoples” and presenting them in a format that could potentially have some appeal in the art world. 

Although I had no art training, a daughter’s passion combined with a mother’s purpose gave birth to “My Peoples” Art, a mother/daughter abstract art collaboration incorporating Alex’s drawings with my acrylic paintings that is 100% owned by Alex. Alex adds the magic to each painting with her perfectly imperfect “My Peoples” making them all unique and one of a kind. Even though she draws on fine art canvases now, she continues to draw in her “journals” every day.

In 2022 we began working on a coffee table styled book that was launched to the public in December 2023. “My Peoples” Art, The First 100 highlights the first 100 paintings and the stories behind them. The 265-page book is beautifully photographed and features the stories and inspiration behind the paintings as well as a section titled Our Continuous Story featuring art completed up to the publishing date. The book not only contains heartfelt stories that will make the reader laugh one minute and cry the next but also Alex’s original poetry in her own handwriting. The book provides a glimpse into our life and the divine intervention woven throughout. The book is available in Tyler at Matt Pierce Art and Hair or from our website mypeoplesart.com.

To date, we have completed over 260 paintings and “My Peoples” Art continues to flourish and bring joy to those who view, buy, or commission our art or follow us on Instagram. We have donated paintings to several nonprofits, helping them raise over $80,000, as our way of giving back to our community.

I hate to admit it, but once upon a time in the first few years of Alex’s life I would have taken away her Down syndrome if I had been able to do so because of my fears of the unknown … but what a mistake that would have been. I can honestly say today I wouldn’t change a thing. Alex has many gifts and talents, and I am honored and humbled to have a front row seat on this most incredible journey!