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Cancer Art, Cancer Survivors, Cancer Support, Cancer Support Groups, Sebastopol California, Sonoma County

Cancer survivors remember pain, healing through art
Artists retrace emotions raised during treatment
2005 - The San Francisco Chronicle
Dawn Yun, Special to The Chronicle
Friday, February 4, 2005

"Dancing with the Phoenix" features 100 pieces of art and is one of the largest exhibitions of cancer survivors' art in the country, according to Martia Nelson, curator of the show at Sebastopol Center for the Arts in Sebastopol.

Nelson, 54, of Sebastopol, is also the founder and director of Arts for Healing, which produced the show and provides free painting classes and support for those dealing with cancer.

The artists -- both men and women -- are primarily from San Francisco, the East Bay and Marin and Sonoma counties. Some of those exhibiting were already artists, while others had never painted before taking a class through Arts for Healing, Nelson said. Most of the exhibition consists of paintings, but body casts also are featured. Prices range from $85 to $5,000. The show is sponsored by the Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital Cancer Library in Santa Rosa.

Attendee Judi Pereira, 45, of Sebastopol, said she was inspired by the art.

"I was diagnosed with breast cancer last year," Pereira said. "I feel the pain and the healing. It's amazing, powerful, touching and deep. I don't paint, but I'm going to now."

Some of the most moving aspects of the show are the artists' statements, which express, in the artists' words, what they were feeling when creating the art, Nelson said.

"The artist statements are what are most powerful," she said. "It's like user-friendly art. The purpose of the show is to present a range of examples for dealing with cancer that empowers people and gives them options. Just the act of turning to creative expression to find an inner source can be restorative, inspiring, supportive and strengthening."

In Sebastopol resident Nina Bind's collage, "On the Edge," butterflies hover atop while below is a Buddha statue and beneath are flames.

Bind writes:

This piece was created when I was close to death. After being diagnosed with advanced Hodgkin's Lymphoma, I was very attached to the idea of doing it all "naturally." It wasn't working.

I finally decided to undergo chemotherapy and it saved my life, while also being like a hell realm.

Though I suffered a lot, there was also a deeply spiritual aspect to the journey, some sort of strange gift along with the incredible challenges.

Sandy Lieberman, of American Canyon, painted "Lost" in acrylics. It sold for $320. Lieberman's painting is an abstract self-portrait in vibrant colors of deep reds and orange mixed with yellow. The portrait's searching eyes express uncertainty.

Lieberman writes:

When I lost my breasts I felt that more than my body parts had been lost. I felt that I had lost my identity with the feminine. I no longer recognized myself. It was through painting that I searched for the deeper connection that I had with that identity. I know that my creativity is feminine and that this is a place to start to rebuild my sense of who I am.

Laur Deaguier, of Sebastopol, painted "Wailing Wall" in iridescent acrylic colors of purple and yellow to depict the sky. Below is a wailing wall of sparkling yellow bricks. The paint is layered, giving the bricks texture and depth.

She writes:

One month after receiving a bone marrow transplant my new immune system began a fierce attack upon the rest of my body. While in the hospital I had a waking vision of a golden path. This path was present in my room for a few days, was clearly an option to leave my life, and was very attractive and appealing.

A year later, while I was painting the vision, I realized that I was not creating the golden path of my vision, but rather a representation of what my new life feels like: a long "wailing wall" and uneven path of struggle and suffering made hopeful and joyful by the presence of golden light that can be brought into this world by choice.

In the painting titled "Bad News" by Sebastopol resident Evelyne Whitman, a mother stands with her arms around her two children. They are staring at a window that is framed in gray; healing colors of light blue and orange surround them.

Whitman writes:

This had to be the hardest moment of my encounter with cancer: telling my children. See how small we look. And the large, cold window to the unknown. And yet at that moment, after the hugging and crying and perhaps thanks to it, I knew the fight was on and I was in charge.

Janet Read, of Santa Rosa, depicted a howling wolf in her acrylic "Voice of Life" painting. The wolf's head is thrown back, screaming to the moon with blue sky and stars surrounding her, breath escaping from her lips.

Read writes:

Just as a wolf will throw back his head to let everyone know that he is here and alive -- and just to enjoy the act -- I sometimes feel like doing the same thing.

Having gone through the "valley of the shadow of death," I feel so lucky and so strengthened by my experience that I, too, feel like howling to the moon. I'm still here world.


The art of survival

The exhibition runs through Sunday at Sebastopol Center for the Arts, 6797 Depot St., Sebastopol. The center is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today, 1-4 p. m. Saturday and Sunday. For more information, call (707) 829-4797. To learn more about Arts for Healing, including submissions for its next show, or to make a contribution, call (707) 823-4403, visit, or write Arts for Healing, P.O. Box 1932, Sebastopol, CA 95473.

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