10 The return to Flight

The Sugar Hill Art Gallery is showcasing the work of Buford resident Dwain A. Vaughns II in an exhibition on display through Thursday, June 23.

The exhibition features 10 photographs in Vaughns’ TIMELINE Collection, as well as eight additional pieces. 

The photographs in Vaughns’ TIMELINE Collection mostly feature birds, his primary subject. The collection tells the story of Vaughns’ childhood ambition to become an airline pilot, his resilience in overcoming a setback in living out that ambition and his path to finding a new purpose.

At 8 years old, Vaughns took his first flight lesson and grew up to make his childhood dream of becoming an airline pilot a reality. But life had something different in store. In 2016, Vaughns broke his foot, and he was diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. 

“Due to the diagnosis I was declared unable to fly ever again,” Vaughns said. 

The following year, while working with The Shepherd Center in its Beyond Therapy program, Vaughns went on a bird watching trip guided by Georgia Audubon. 

“This was my first experience with others with disabilities,” Vaughns recalled. “Things did not go as planned and I was sidelined and had to just watch.” 

A Shepherd Center staff member, Wendy Battaglia, sat with Vaughns to help keep his spirits up, and she encouraged him to participate despite his limitations. They began listening to the birds and trying to identify them by the sounds they made. 

“I noticed while doing so I was so focused it helped relieve my pain,” Vaughns said. “That’s where my story began with birds. The birds also helped me reestablish a relationship with flying.” 

Vaughns began using bird watching, listening to the unique chirps and melodies, as a daily practice to reduce his pain and restore his mental health. 

“I started using photography to capture those moments and bring awareness to the healing properties birds and nature have,” he said. “To show how resilient and powerful our bodies are and how much control we have over them.

“Photographing nature has become a new part of my being.” 

In addition to sharing his personal story of healing, Vaughns is an advocate for others with disabilities and accessibility challenges. 

“I am able to function but with limitations. So I operate in-between two worlds and get perspective from both sides,” he said. “One of my hopes for the exhibition was to make sure that it was accessible to all.” 

Vaughns worked with the Sugar Hill Arts Commission and the art gallery to ensure accessibility, calling the collaboration “a wonderful experience. 

“Our experiences and ideas meld together to really create a wonderful environment,” he said.

The Sugar Hill Art Gallery is at The Local across from the Eagle Theatre at 5010 W. Broad St. The art gallery is staffed primarily by volunteers, so when planning a visit, visitors should call 678-541-6125 to ensure the gallery is open. 

Learn more about Vaughns on his website, gawwnoutdoors.com. 

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Deanna Allen has served as editor of the North Gwinnett Voice since June 2021. Effective communication and creative design are her passions.

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