‘Healing Art Stories” — opening with a reception on Thursday, July 13, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Capital Health Medical Center in Hopewell — is more a testament than an exhibit.
Its curator, noted artist and art writer Janet Purcell, understands firsthand the connection among art, health, and hope — similar to this week’s cover story on writer Pia de Jong’s personal journey in “Saving Charlotte” (see story, page 27).
“I’d been a caretaker for my late husband who had multiple sclerosis and finally became totally paralyzed and died,” the Hopewell-based Times of Trenton columnist says. “During that terrible time doing my art helped me find a place of peace and helped me heal after his death. I knew of other artists who had and were having the same experience.”
“I agreed (to curate a show) and said we needed to not only see their art, but we needed to hear their stories. So I told each artist I invited they would be required to write an essay about how creating their art has helped them heal.”
As shown in the following excerpted comments, their remarks are revealing:
“Creating art aided me during a recent crisis,” says Hopewell painter and mixed media artist Aurelle Purdy Sprout. “While recently hospitalized for stage one lung cancer, the process of enduring surgery, to waking up and realizing that I eventually would be all right, gave me such joy that I couldn’t wait to recover — first of all to be part of life itself — but also to return to the world of art. Even while in ICU, the surgeon (also a painter) and I shared via Smartphones our respective artwork/websites! What a rush of excitement and hope! (Creating art) feeds my curiosity, grounds my body, lifts my spirit, and connects me positively with life itself.”
Titusville painter NJ DeVico says, “Having a terminal disease … When I work — actually, it’s more like play — I go into a zone and don’t worry about anything: Not my platelet count, not my next chemo session, not the pile of hospital bills accumulating, nor my health insurance woes. The world is just me and my juicy, intense Sennelier oil pastels. Living color. I almost died after my bone marrow transplant didn’t work. That’s when I got comfortable doing abstracts. It was the first time I didn’t care if anyone might say or think, ‘My five-year-old can do that.’ Yup, when you realize the end could be near, you don’t give a damn about a lotta things that you wasted time on before. It’s quite liberating. I’m not unlucky because I’ve got leukemia. I’m lucky because I’m an artist.”
“I lead two lives,” says Hopewell mixed-media artist and Capital Health Arts & Healing Committee member Jane Zamost. “The first as a studio artist and the second as a healing one at my local hospital. For me, the medium utilized is irrelevant; it is simply the act of creation that stirs me. When working in my studio, guiding patients at bedside and witnessing people’s responses to art, I am continually amazed at the restorative impact that art holds for both its maker and audience. The heart slows, the mind focuses, the rhythm of the room transforms. This response to art has made my business desires crystallize — to bring forth optimism to homes and hospitals. Where art soothes, hope rises.”
Princeton-based artist and printmaker Priscilla Snow Algava says, “When I was diagnosed with uterine and endometrial cancer in August, 2016, I experienced indescribable sadness and uncertainty. I vowed that I would survive valiantly. After 7.5 hours of surgery and chemotherapy sessions ending February 1, I am happy to declare that I am cancer-free! . . . I believe it is my art-making and my fierce desire to live and be productive that did it! Being an artist is a privilege which fills me with gratitude. I made art every day. I experimented; I painted with my grandchildren when they visited. With each mark and stroke, I was able to transmute fear, uncertainty, and unwelcome thoughts into possibility, self-expression, and the mystery of living a creative life.”
“Throughout my husband’s cancer,” says Princeton photographer Tasha O’Neill, “I have found solace in nature. Even though some periods were bleak, my muse never left me. Actually, I feel more connected and creative than before. My eyes are wide open and I am aware of reflections of buildings in puddles, dew on flowers; little things that I might otherwise have overlooked now seem important to capture with my lens. It gives me pleasure to go out on my own and find surprises. As care givers, having an outlet for our creativity is essential for the survival of our soul. Art matters even more to me under these circumstances. Art is essential for my sanity.”
Doylestown painter and doctor Jan Lipes notes, “I was wheelchair-bound, completely unable to walk and my dominant right arm was weak and clumsy. I was tired and I was ill. I was never going to get better. How should I proceed? A child rose from within and answered — the same child that used to bicycle around the Bronx in the ’50s with a sketchbook and watercolors under his arm. The answer was art. Through sketching and painting, I apprehend nature. I come to understand what is before me. It is my central focus, my source, and my escape. Escape not from something, but rather to my inner being, to the essential. It is the wellspring of my passion and love. It is the vehicle of my anger. It is my rebellion against all that seeks to immobilize, stifle, and diminish my humanity.”
And Hopewell Township sculptor Janis Blayne Paul will only say, “My work is always rooted in the intention for wellness, compassion, hope and healing. Each work of art is an exercise in mindfulness. Creating art that resonates and brightens my spirit inspires a purposeful life. That is does so for others as well is more than I could have hoped for.”
Two other artists speak through third-person statements. For Tyler Bell, a 24-year-old Pennington resident with autism, “painting makes autism take a back seat, removing anxiety and stim and revealing the gifts and the soul hidden behind the mask of this disorder.” And Garnet Valley, Pennsylvania, software engineer Andrew Weiss relieves the stress of helping his cancer-stricken daughter through photography.
Although Purcell says, “This show is important to me,” it seems bigger than that and a lifeline to hope for the artists — and others.
Healing Art Stories, Capital Health Medical Center, Hopewell. Through Monday, October 16. Opening reception with pianist Philip Orr Thursday, July 13, 6 to 7:30 p.m. 609-537-6073.