Sitting at a small table inside the Bear Creek Caf (c) in Manlius, Megan Muldoon is engaged in one of her favorite pastimes: knitting. Many patrons recognize Muldoon, not only as a regular at the Manlius eatery, but also because of her artwork. It's appeared at the cafe and other venues throughout the Eastern suburbs in recent months. Muldoon has overcome special challenges to become an artist. She was born with autism.
Her good friend, Eunie Balanoff, settles into the seat facing Muldoon with a hot cup of coffee.
Balanoff, who has served as Muldoon's caregiver for 10 years, said she remembers Muldoon as an adolescent who would hide under tables, act out and speak to no one.
"Totally non-communicative," Balanoff said about Muldoon in those days. "We pulled her out. We got her to become social, more communicative.
"Her level of understanding is great," she said.
So great, in fact, that her learned skills earned her a national art award given during a ceremony at Carnegie Hall in New York City. In 2006, as an FMHS senior, Muldoon entered her artwork in a national Scholastic Arts competition that attracted 9,000 applicants across the country. Well-known artists, curators, gallery owners and creative professionals reviewed the pieces. Muldoon's was one of 322 to receive a National Silver Award.
"[The panel] had no idea she had autism until two weeks before she was to appear on stage in Carnegie Hall by herself with 300 some other winners," Balanoff said. "They were in awe; very, very helpful and very supportive. She was the last one to walk across the stage. There must have been 10,000 people there. She waved, 'Hi, Mom, hi Dad' and just looked at everybody. I just cried."
Muldoon's passion for art began when she was about 2 and served primarily as a means of communication. One piece of artwork told a story of trepidation at the dentist's office.