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‘I realized I could do it’

With a list of maladies and accidents you wouldn’t wish on an enemy, Suzanne Reynolds has lived in confusion and pain for many of her adult years.

Reynolds, 65, of Lake of the Pines, has survived a freak vehicle accident, multiple sclerosis, mini-strokes and a bad fall, causing brain injuries that have rendered her unable to work.

“I can’t do left side of brain stuff, like numbers. I can’t do it.” Reynolds said recently. But four years ago, through colorful brush strokes, she found something she could do that brought peace of mind and even some money into the household.



“We moved into this house and it was all white, so we started sponge-painting it. I decided the back bathroom should have a mural, so I painted the Virgin Mary.”

Inspired by her Roman Catholic religion, Reynolds started painting portraits of religious figures like Saint James and Saint John the Baptist.




“Then they had a watercolor class at Lake of the Pines that opened me up because I realized I could do it. I realized (the paintings) were just coming out. When I paint, I just go into other places.”

Reynolds also read a book by Betty Edwards called “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.” It made her realize that her prior, failed attempts at art may have been coming from the left side of her brain that deals with numbers, words and specifics with which she has trouble.

By following Edwards’ advice, she started thinking of her paintings as whole things before she even started and not in parts, a right-brain function.

“Things started to become clearer and make sense to me,” Reynolds said. “I’ve been painting nonstop for the last three years.”

Her paintings adorn the house and were recently on display at the South Pine Street in Grass Valley. She now sells prints of her paintings, “because Steve won’t let me sell the originals.”

Steve is Reynolds’ husband, a country-club executive in Roseville. He’s amazed at what the power of art has done for his wife.

“It’s been perfect,” Steve said. “It’s occupied her time and she seems much more satisfied with life and excited about things.”

“I have a passion now,” Suzanne said.

Using art to help people heal is not a new notion. Ayse Turkseven introduced it to the Cancer Center at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital about 10 years ago to help patients and their loved ones cope.

Patients and caregivers can take clay, writing and harp classes “and we just started a stained-glass group,” said Turkseven, the center’s director.

“By doing something with your hands, it frees up your emotions and releases you,” Turkseven said. “It builds confidence and self-esteem.”

The American Art Therapy Association Inc.’s Web site says that it can be used for depression, anxiety, substance abuse, family abuse issues and for those who experienced trauma like Suzanne Reynolds. The association believes that artistic expression can help people resolve conflicts and problems, cut stress and manage their behavior.

In a piece written last year for EBSCO Publishing, an information company that handles medical journals among other things, nurse Barbara Williams Consentino dated art therapy back to the late 1930s. That is when a woman named Margaret Naumberg began using art as away to get to the subconscious for psychoanalysis.

Then in the early 1940s, an artist named Adrian Hill found that his work helped him overcome the emotional blow of having tuberculosis. By having fellow patients also do art, Hill found that they could finally have a vehicle for expressing their emotions.

According to Consentino’s article, the American Art Therapy Association was started in 1969. They now regulate professional standards for art therapists.

In a recent article for The Boston Globe by Cara Feinberg and reprinted by The Dana Foundation’s Brain in the News magazine, research with a blind artist was cited as a possible path to therapy for many things, including chronic pain and strokes.

The research included a Turkish man blind from birth who can draw street scenes he’s obviously never seen, with perspective and shadows, depending on the time of day. He allowed himself to be tested at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Boston, Mass.

The researchers found during the last 10 years that the brain adjusts to injury, which they think allowed the man to use his mind’s eye, despite the fact he was blind.

When the man would draw, his visual cortex lit up on a scan just like a sighted person. Researchers were not sure if the man used different than normal sensors in the brain to utilize his mind’s eye, or if it was dormant and had been kick-started by circumstances through the years.

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To contact senior staff writer Dave Moller, e-mail davem@theunion.com or call 477-4237.

Art therapy Web sites

• National Coalition of Creative Arts Therapies Associations, http://www.nccata.org

• International Expressive Arts Therapy Association, http://www.ieata.org

• American Art Therapy Association Inc., http://www.arttherapy.org


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