DisPatches, Winter 2001 - 2002
Strokes and Brushstrokes by Maureen Green
The Stroke Support Group at College of Marin boasts an unusual number of artists among its members, and decided to take two recent meetings to learn about the artists and their work.
Ben and Vida Wheeler, both artists who met while attending Rhode Island School of Design, presented their work in tandem.
Vida taught ceramics at Edna Maguire Elementary School and Redwood High School prior to her stroke, and she told the group she has begun to work with ceramics again. She recommends it as good therapy for the hands, crossing midline, and general coordination.
Vida has worked in a variety of media, and the first piece she showed us was a ceramic sculpture of a fish on a circular plate. She also shared a pastel she completed while taking art courses at College of Marin, a tree-filled scene viewed from a window in the Fine Arts Building. Begun in the fall, the colors of the pastel were layered over the course of two seasons, with underlying autumnal tones shading into the greenery of spring.
The group's favorite was entitled "Peace," a rotating scene of mother and baby, fluid images of color and movement, done in pencil, and opaque and transparent watercolor. Vida created "Peace" for an art exhibit protesting the war in Vietnam, during the Spring Mobilization for Peace in 1969. "Peace" was also printed as a note card, and these note cards have become the unofficial stationary of the Stroke Support Group.
Vida's husband Ben also works in a variety of media. He presented an astonishingly realistic out-sized ceramic Swiss army knife to the group. A drawing of cowboys making coffee over an open fire was done during Ben and Vida's courtship days, a California scene sent to Vida in New York by Ben stranded 3,000 miles away. Ben also shared a thoughtful portrait of Vida done in pencil. Two of the group's artists presented stained glass. With the help of Whistlestop transportation, Connie Heltne carried one of her smaller pieces, a decorative bright yellow flower, to share with the group. Erwin Farley brought a more extensive sampling of his stained glass: a large A (for Artelle, his late wife) intertwined with a large E (for Erwin); a beautiful rose; and the logo of the town of Belvedere, which he formerly served as mayor. On a more offbeat note, Erwin also produced a stained glass flyswatter. He braved aphasia (difficulties with language following an injury to the brain) to explain the process of working in stained glass, and exhibited some of the materials needed. Harold Knobbe (known as "Knobby" to the group) brought in "The Six Heads of Aphasia," a series of self-portraits affixed to grocery bags with handles (for easy turning of the pages). The self-portraits are done in a variety of artistic styles, with two in the manner of Van Gogh and one in a cubist motif. The most evocative portrait is done in crayon over newsprint, with the face superimposed over a flood of incomprehensible words -- the portrait of aphasia. Susan Thorsen, a new member of the Stroke Support Group, takes art classes in the East Bay with Chris Zydel, a therapeutic art teacher who encourages her students to explore color, shape and design without reference to artistic "correctness." Susan reported that since her stroke, this has been a very satisfying approach for her. She presented two of her paintings, displaying large compelling eyes with multicolored streamers and shapes emanating from the perimeters. They were reminiscent of festive masks, with one appearing as magnetic cat's eyes, the other sporting a snout. Eloise Rauscher, whose husband, Gene, had a stroke several years ago, has been working as an artist for many years and uses a variety of media. She brought in a still life done in acrylics, displaying a large pitcher and flowing green plant on a crumpled tablecloth, scattered with fruits and vegetables. Eloise told the group that she had worked on this piece right after Gene had his stroke; Eloise painted in one room while Gene received home therapy in another. She described how this painting held a lot of her reaction at the time, and gave her a much-appreciated outlet. She also shared an abstract done in mixed media: acrylics, oil, paper and pastels. She said this latter piece is typical of her current work.
As a culmination of the display of student artwork, Eloise led the group in the creation of two collective artworks.
She supplied two canvases and a variety of paints; the support group supplied the artists. Each member took turns adding objects, designs, people or scenery, and together created two collective works as a finale to the Stroke Support Group's art sessions.