Healing through art
Shelburne Falls’ Arts Garden show features artists’ personal stories of loss and pain, resulting works
Phyllis Labanowski and Jane Beatrice Wegscheider stand in the Arts Garden in Shelburne Falls amid works in the Rx 4 HEALth exhibit.
Jane Beatrice Wegscheider with her art piece "Emtyness Is The Mother Of All Things."
Phyllis Labanowski with her artwork from "The Hoarder's Daughter" made with objects found in her father's home.
SHELBURNE FALLS — No one wants illness and death in their lives, but when they come, they are powerful teachers.
This month, 22 area artists are sharing very personal stories of illness and loss as well as artwork that has helped them work through a time of loss.
“Rx 4 HEALth” is the latest community art exhibit on display at the Arts Garden in Shelburne Falls, and it features 38 exhibits that are certain to spark profound conversations.
For those who haven’t been to the Art Garden, it’s what founder Jane Beatrice Wegscheider calls “a Community Supported Art-making (CSA) place,” located in the Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum building. Filled with both art and donated art materials, the Art Garden doubles as art gallery and as art studio space. It’s a place where children and adults can come for art classes or just for an inspiring place in which to create their own artwork.
Last year, Wegscheider and Conway artist Phyllis Labanowksi created a community-wide exhibit called “The River Within Us: Stories Inspired by the River Around Us,” which featured residents’ stories of the Deerfield River, and of Tropical Storm Irene, imprinted on jugs and glass bottles filled with Deerfield River Water.
The current exhibit, Rx 4 HEALth, will be on display through June 15.
Artist Edite Cunha of Turners Falls will speak Wednesday night on “How do we face loss with an open heart?” Cunha, a longtime area writer and artist, uses broken china and handmade dolls to express her feelings about the loss of her granddaughter, at 17 weeks old.
“During the long months of waiting for my flawed granddaughter Amalia to go through birth and death, I made many ‘Ama’ dolls,” Cunha explains, on a sign near a wooden box of cloth dolls with a photo of the baby. “Most (dolls) were given away to friends and strangers, as we maneuvered through arduous days. Ama, which is also the Portuguese verb for ‘love,’ is the short version of ‘Amalia.’”
Another art object made by Cunha features a ceramic ballerina with broken arms dancing on a mosaic stage of broken china. “The broken figure, an armless dancer, dancing despite challenges, reminded me of Amalia and helped me work through the grief of her birth and death,” Cunha wrote.
Artist Janice Sorensen of Buckland enterered a self-portrait called “My Blue Period,” which shows a very angry woman with a black eye peering through a three-dimensional blue “peephole.”
“The day after the man I was living with gave me a black eye, I went to a public place and painted this self-portrait,” wrote Sorensen. “As people came by, what they saw was a woman with a black eye painting a woman with a black eye. Many people stopped to ask me what I was doing and why I was doing it. My partner’s sense of healing was an apology and a promise. Not enough. In publicly documenting the results of this domestic violence, and denying my partner’s request not to say anything, I began a true cycle of healing and awareness.”
Wegscheider said the idea for a community art project on healing arose while the Art Garden was working with Pam Roberts of Shelburne Falls to create an exhibit called “The Torso Project” — an art exhibit created by women who have been affected by breast cancer, which was exhibited this spring.
Wegscheider’s contributions to the exhibit include an earth-goddess figure who appears to be made of greenery and tree bark, with a gold chamber at about heart level. The piece is called “Emptiness is the Mother of all Things.”
Wegscheider said the piece was inspired by, and named for, a fortune-cookie fortune she received, which reflects a Zen belief.
Labanowksi’s “Alter/Altar” series are small altars she made from items her father had collected, which she found after his death. “I’m the daughter of a hoarder,” she wrote. “The Alter/Altar series is a group of altars I made from objects found in my father’s collection. After his death, I added sacred objects I found, as a way to transform the pain of his illness.”
Labanowski will give a talk on May 29 called “The Hoarder’s Daughter: How art helped me heal.”
Labanowski also created a video in response to her father’s death and the hoarding he left behind. In her talk, Labanowski will draw on current research about the effects of hoarding on family members and the work of Randy Frost (a specialist on hoarding.) She will reflect on the role of art in processing traumatic events and encourage participants to reflect on and share their own experience
When artist Hope Schneider began losing her hair during chemotherapy treatment for cancer, she created her own art brushes from her hair and painted with them. “The resulting pieces are the calligraphy of an unknown and mysterious language,” Schneider wrote. “I can only hope that they are healing incantations from remote outposts in my body.”
Many of the resulting artworks are uplifting and can spark a lot of thoughts about what is beauty and what isn’t.
The Art Garden is open Mondays through Saturdays from 1 to 5 p.m. For more information, call 625-2782 or go online to:
You can reach Diane Broncaccio at:
or 413-772-0261, ext. 277