The Healing Powers of Art

Sep 9, 2016

A group of artists are part of an exhibit at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport. What sets the Living Proof Exhibit apart from other displays is how the work has helped these artists through some dark days. 

Pamela Crouch with one of her mixed-media collages, which is part of the Living Proof Exhibit at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport.
Credit Rob Dillard

You might call the collection of more than 60 pieces of art at the Figge a smorgasbord exhibit. It includes everything from fiber art, such as sewing and knitting and a quilt, to painting, encaustics and photography, the more traditional forms of art.

There is one thing, however, that ties all of this work together.

“This is a juried exhibit," says Pamela Crouch, who helped put the show together. "But even to be considered, you have to be a cancer survivor.”

Crouch is executive director and co-founder with Mary Ellen Cunningham of the non-profit Living Proof Exhibit. They formed it in 2010 as both battled cancer.

“Literally, I was sitting at home feeling very sorry for myself," Crouch says. "I was bald, I was full of steroids, and I couldn’t remember anything.”

Chemotherapy had left Crouch with aphasia, what many cancer survivors call chemo-brain, the inability to remember even the simplest words. She was a writer and needed to find another way to express herself. She picked up some paint brushes, bought some birdhouses, painted their roofs pink, added flowers and butterflies, and gave them away as gifts to friends and fellow cancer survivors.

“Cancer strips away so much of what you know about yourself," she says."By being able to have a little opportunity to create, to build something, when cancer takes so much away, to build something is very meaningful and very powerful.”

Art became Crouch’s healing therapy. She expanded into photography and mixed-media collages. And she found many other cancer patients seeking creative ways to aid recovery. One of them is Sue Lemmon. She’s a 10-year cancer survivor and has taken up abstract painting.

Sue Lemmon holds an untitled abstract painting she created for the Living Proof Exhibit.
Credit Rob Dillard

“It occupies your mind," Lemmon says. "So you don’t have to think about troubles in the world, about pain, whether it’s arthritic pain, cancer pain, depression, your mind is caught up in the creative process.”

Lemmon says art has allowed her to get her mind off cancer and onto more pleasant things. Six-year breast cancer survivor Terri Reinhartz is pursuing a completely different form of artistic expression.

“I’m the healing puzzles lady,” she says.

She’s making jigsaw puzzles.

“When I was growing up, my family went through a lot of trials," Reinhartz says. "My dad was out of a job a lot, so we would sit around and do jigsaw puzzles until he found a job.”

Reinhartz resorted to this pastime when she got sick and had little energy to do much else. She has three of her creations as part of the Living Proof Exhibit. The director of education at the Figge, Melissa Mohr, calls her decision to provide space for the exhibit a no-brainer.

Terri Reinhartz and one of the three jigsaw puzzles on display at the Figge Art Museum as part of the Living Proof Exhibit.
Credit Rob Dillard

“The stories of so many of the survivors who have artworks in this exhibition are meant to be told," Mohr says. "And I feel like the Figge is the right place to do that.”

In fact, it’s the second time the Figge has hosted the Living Proof Exhibit. Mohr says it was hit with the public in 2014.

“I don’t know if we’ve ever had an exhibition opening in the community gallery that was that big. We ran out of food, so I ordered more this time,” she says with a laugh.

Mohr says people come because everyone has been touched by cancer, or by some form of upheaval in their lives. They, too, can turn to the therapeutic benefits of art. The Living Proof Exhibit will be on display at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport through October 16th. 

Pamela Crouch and Melissa Mohr plan where to hang the artwork for the Living Proof Exhibit at the Figge.
Credit Rob Dillard