The art of healing

“The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.”

That Oprah Winfrey quote is expressed on a recent colored pencil drawing by Elaine Stacy. The bright blue letters are surrounded by white handwriting of the many things Stacy is thankful for, including “good health.”

Stacy, a lifelong artist, made this piece while in the Clarion Wellness and Rehabilitation center. She was diagnosed with dementia about a year and a half ago.

Stacy’s daughter, Pam Conkling, recently donated 20 of Stacy’s drawings to the Alzheimer’s Association of Fort Dodge, to help raise money and awareness for the disease.

Stacy has been drawing “since about eight years of age,” Conkling said. “She does it for herself, and she keeps it. She considers each one so personal, and they mean so much to her, it’s difficult for her to part with any.”

The art comes “from the inside out,” Stacy said in an interview.

“I did not go to college, I did not get a degree, I just knew I was meant to be an artist,” she said.

Stacy’s lifelong passion has served her well in coping with her changing health. Amy Von Bank, program and event coordinator for the Alzheimer’s Association, said art therapy is used quite often to help patients express themselves.

“We have done a lot of programs involving art therapy,” Von Bank said. “We’re seeing more of a link between the healing properties music and art in Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, very similar to how we use those in small children to help them cope with their emotions, to learn different skills.

“While in this case she’s always been doing art, I was amazed to see how much that helped her cope throughout the process and the changes – moving into care facilities, different living situations and even just the different pains involved.”

When Stacy broke her hip and ankle she refused pain medicine – even Tylenol, Von Bank said. Stacy would only accept a heating pad – a homemade one, made from rice or buckwheat in a sock.

She lives all-naturally, Conkling said.

“She’s a vegetarian, never been a drinker. She does not believe in taking medications; she is pure as far as her lifestyle. She is very spiritual. Her art is part of that spirituality,” Conkling said. “She has not had health problems until a year and a half ago.”

Her mother is still amazingly articulate, Conkling said, explaining deeper meanings to poems and artwork. On the other hand, she sometimes thinks that Conkling’s grown children are scribbling on her canvas.

“Both of my children are naughty because they scribble in her artwork sometimes, and she’ll have to completely cover it,” Conkling said. “I said, ‘Mom, they’re middle aged. They’re not even children.’ She says ‘That makes it even worse.'”

All of the donated pieces were made 10 to 20 years ago, and most are portraits. Now, Stacy draws mostly abstract pieces and word art. Of the latter, some are straightforward inspirational phrases, while others layer letters, names and phrases on top of each other to create a more abstract message.

One in particular -a bright blue metallic piece with multiple phrases layered together – has a story that seems to mirror her journey into the care center.

“Basically, every time I started it, somebody would come along and put their own artistic talent on top of mine secretly. So I would come back and it would be altered. This was very frustrating,” Stacy said. “Finally it got to the point where I just said, let it go.

“It was a letting go process, and at the same time it was a renewing, refreshing, unique way of saying what was meant to be said in the first place.”

The phrase on the piece says, “Thus endeth another chronicle.” Layered around that it also says “Not as the world gives, but that which comes from the father which is in heaven,” and “This is a You do.”

Throughout her life, Stacy has stressed the importance of turning negative to positive, and this is reflected in her art.

“Your mental attitude determines the outcome of what you experience in your life. I know this from personal experience,” Stacy said.

Art can express your true self no matter what else happens, she said. And art can help connect people in vital ways.

“Not following everyone else’s style, but allowing your own to come out in the open and manifest. It’s hiding, basically, until you get it out. And that’s the fun part,” she said. “Unless you get it out and look at it and start working with it, it’s hidden in a secret little chamber that nobody can celebrate.

“It’s something to be shared. We are each other’s gold dust, basically. We, each one of us, has a treasure that we’re here to give through our lives.”