Deaf, legally blind owner of Fuzzy Wuzzy Design in Morris thrives on spirit
MORRIS TOWNSHIP -- Christian Markovic lost his hearing at age 2 and began losing his eyesight when he was 13.
By the time he was 20, he was legally blind and a mysterious neurological disorder began stealing his ability to walk. By age 23, he could no longer run.
Today, at 38, he has cochlear implants but remains profoundly hearing impaired. He can barely see and can only walk with crutches.
His physical limitations haven’t limited his spirit or his ability to succeed in the marketplace. Markovic is an award-winning artist who runs his own successful business, Fuzzy Wuzzy Design, which features his own artistic creations on greeting cards and clothing.
Spirit, as well as peace and love, are the themes of his artwork. A ‘spirit sign’ is not only one of his logos, but also is tattooed on his left bicep.
"I’ve always been spiritual for years," Markovic said. "I’ve always liked to be around people who are spiritual and believe in peace."
For such a gentle soul, Markovic has had a life that has been anything but easy, but has managed to persevere, said his father Bob Markovic.
A graduate of Morristown High School, Markovic became the first deaf graduate of Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts.
His artwork has been shown at the Credit Suisse Gallery in New York City and the Pierro Gallery in South Orange, and he has been one of the primary artists at Arts Unbound in Orange, a gallery/studio for disabled persons. One of his posters titled "All Races Are Equal" won a ‘Best in Show’ award at the 2007 Morris County Seniors and Persons with Disabilities Art Show.
However, landing a job has been virtually impossible due to his disabilities, the elder Markovic said.
"He’s got a lot of talent, possibly an IQ of 150, and nobody will give him a job," his father said. "Nobody will deal with you when you’ve got those kinds of disabilities."
So, Christian Markovic went into business for himself, and Fuzzy Wuzzy Design was born eight years ago as a greeting-card company featuring his own computer-generated artwork based on sign language. A few years later, he began selling clothing items adorned with his artwork.
Markovic uses a Macintosh computer with a 52-inch monitor and a zoom program that magnifies his work 10 times larger than life so he can see it. The Fuzzy Wuzzy moniker stems both from having had his hair shorn in college and how he describes his eyesight.
"I got that nickname from a teacher. I had long hair and cut it short. That’s my nickname, but it’s a true nickname, because my eyesight is fuzzy," he said.
But he can see colors well.
"I have a good feeling of picking the colors," Markovic said. "With my vision, maybe it makes the colors more real. It’s hard to explain how it works."
"He has the most amazing sense of color, beyond any artist I’ve seen," said his friend, Melanie Drucker of South Orange. "That’s all he sees, is flashes of color."
Bald with brown eyes and a billy-goat’s-gruff goatee, Markovic has a broad smile.
Drucker met him five years ago at an American Sign Language conference in Garden City. She went to learn about sign language but never imagined that someone both deaf and blind would be there. Because his vision is impaired, Markovic cannot see people signing and instead communicates by feeling the hands of someone signing.
"He was the only deaf-blind person there, and I had never seen a deaf-blind person in action," Drucker recalled. "I saw him in a class, with an interpreter feeling his hands, and I was blown away. Instead of going to classes that I was signed up for, I was following him."
She learned they were kindred spirits; she was a painter, he had painted, sculpted and was running his own artwork business based on sign language,
His greeting cards, which can be found in The Health Shoppe, C’est Cheese and International Pottery, all in Morristown, retail for two packs of five cards for $14.80. He also sells his wares at craft shows and online and estimates that he has sold at least 20,000 cards over the years.
While sales are good, Markovic said that is besides the point.
"This was about doing something he owns, that belongs to him. It gives him a sense of self worth, that he’s got something other people want," Drucker said. "This was about a man who had so much, had all the knowledge and didn’t want to give it up. This is about surviving."
At times, Markovic does get frustrated with, and angry about, his disabilities, though he tries to never let it show, Drucker said.
His neurological disorder may be either a form of the rare Guillain-Barre Syndrome, in which the immune system attacks part of the nervous system, or Hereditary Motor and Sensory Neuropathy — but doctors aren’t sure, his father said. Either way, neither disorder is curable.
Markovic, who lives alone in an apartment, is independent. A home-health-aide visits twice a week to assist him.
"I just want to make sure people with disabilities can be independent," he said. "There’s nothing I can’t do. If you’re disabled, you have to live with it. You have to be happy with what you can do. I’m happy with myself. I have no problem with my disabilities because there’s nothing I can do about it."
Markovic’s next project is to author a book using animal artwork to teach sign-language.
"I hope to teach children, schools and hospitals to learn sign language," he said.
For more information, see www.fuzzywuzzydesign.com.