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ON THE SCENE: LPCA exhibit showcases how some use art for healing

April 13, 2018
By NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

The joint exhibit of paintings by Sheila Pritchard, masks created by veterans at St. Joe's and poems by Barbara Rand Ryan that opened Friday evening, April 6, at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts is well worth a special trip.

Indeed, it's one of the most emotionally powerful presentations they've displayed.

The exhibition of Pritchard's paintings was suggested to the art center by her daughter, Lake Placid resident Martha Spear. Pritchard lived most of her adult life in Baltimore, raising a family and creating paintings and portraits in a fairly realistic manner, until two events re-shaped her life dramatically: the death of her husband, killed by a drunk driver while he was riding a bike, and the concurrent failure of her kidneys.

Article Photos

Martha Spear with some of her mother’s artwork at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts
(Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

For the next 19 years, she created her "grief paintings," a series of abstracted and abstract paintings, collages and other works that express her innermost feelings - artworks created with an intensity and urgency fully on display along with art created earlier in her life.

"It's both thrilling and sad in a way to see my mother's work exhibited, sad because she isn't here to experience people's reactions," said Spear. "But I am glad that the work is now being seen and people are having the opportunity to react to her work. She didn't talk a lot about the paintings she created after my father died, but I picked up a lot from her. After the death of my father, she became intensely religious and prayed through her paintings."

Similar to Pritchard, Barbara Rand had her husband Dennis Ryan, then 57, brutally torn from her life, in her case by suicide on May 21, 2012, a day after he attended Lake Placid's annual Volunteer of the Year Award, of which he was the previous recipient. Like Pritchard, Rand was devastated by that sudden loss. Her salvation was to return to her hometown of Lake Placid so she could be near family and friends, get out in nature and start writing poems, of which about a dozen are on display.

Her poems take one through her journey that include her darkest moments to finding a measure of peace. She has since compiled a book of her 79 poems, "A Path to Healing," with a portion of the proceeds going to support suicide-prevention agencies and activities like the Out of Darkness walking event held annually on the Olympic Speedskating Oval in Lake Placid.

"I went through all the stages of anger, sorrow and everything," said Rand. "Writing these poems helped me get on a healing path. I hope my poems will stimulate and inspire people to reach out to anyone they know who needs some kind of help. I never thought I would be dealing with a suicide, but I always wrote when I was sad so it was natural for me to turn to poetry to help me with my husband's death. About a year and a half after his death, my sisters Mary and Judy were amazed by what I was writing and said I need to keep a journal. They urged me to publish my poems."

"The poems saved Barbara's life," said Judy Rand. "You have no idea what it was like seeing her after his death. It was such a shock. We couldn't believe it. We felt it couldn't have happened. The poems combined with hiking brought her back. She published the poems because she wants to help people. Writing poems meant so much to her and now she wants to help others."

In 2014, St. Joseph's Addiction Treatment and Recovery Center in Saranac Lake opened a residential facility for male military veterans. This winter, they piloted a mask-making workshop for their veteran residents, and to date approximately half of them painted and modified papier-mache masks as a means of expressing their emotions. The 11 masks on display graphically illustrate the emotional impact their service and subsequent addictions have had on their life, while at the same time providing them a tool for reducing the power of those emotions on their lives.

"At first, I wanted to just draw something, but when I put a feeling behind, it completely changed the whole process of making the mask," said James, a veteran in residence at St. Joe's. "Once I started making the mask, I could see the feelings I was hiding. I found it easier to make a mask than talk about certain things. I feel that through the eyes you can really see the pain and anger that's behind everything."

"It was very special seeing our masks exhibited," said Eric, another veteran. "I took some pictures of my mask and sent them to my family. It opened up a lot of lines of communication. Stuff that's been held in over 10 years came out. I feel that making the mask has led to better relationships with my family. It helped me realize that I'm not the only one feeling this way. Those who made masks became closer and had an easier time of sharing information."

James Lemons, director of the LPCA, credits Martha Spear as the impetus behind the exhibition. Upon seeing her mother's work, they reached out to other organizations that used the arts to address mental health and healing, seeking examples of other media underscoring the importance of the creative process.

"We feel it's a very strong show that marries a lot of different genres together and illustrates how the arts can be healing and how you can use the arts, whether you are a professional or amateur to express feelings that you have a hard time saying out loud," said Lemons.

"There is no question that the arts are a wonderful outlet for anyone who is in a therapeutic situation," said Bob Ross, president and CEO of St. Joe's. "It allows them to be expressive. It allows them the freedom to not worry about what's right or wrong, but to just express what they feel in a tactile way. Displaying their work provides them a sense of recognition and acknowledgment, that they matter, that they have something to say that's important."

"I'm seeing a lot of dark images in Pritchard's paintings, but a lot of healing through them, which is very powerful," said Beth Amorosi. "The veterans' masks illustrate a juxtaposition of their strength and what people put up as human front over what's deep inside. I'm sure the process of making them was very healing. Barbara's poems are very moving, she shared the inner depths of her soul. She is so brave."

The art of Sheila Pritchard, poems by Barbara Rand and masks by veterans at St. Joe's is on display in the LPCA Gallery Wednesday through Saturday, 1 to 5 p.m., through May 5.



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