Jul 18, 2019
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A woman sits in front of a collaborative art piece by the local community, displayed at the “2014 Art of Life Exhibit-Shine On”, Sunday, Sept. 28. Darlene Wendels / The Collegian

Cancer survivors illustrate journey through art

The three-piece painting was a collage of spring – bright green, sunflower yellow and sky blue.

Suzanne Blattel, of Fresno, and her two friends Sharon Lawson and Diana Garrison – all of them cancer survivors

A woman sits in front of a collaborative art piece by the local community, displayed at the “2014 Art of Life Exhibit-Shine On”, Sunday, Sept. 28. Darlene Wendels / The Collegian

A woman sits in front of a collaborative art piece by the local community, displayed at the “2014 Art of Life Exhibit-Shine On”, Sunday, Sept. 28. Darlene Wendels / The Collegian

– shared their work, “God Shines Through,” to family, friends and the public Sunday afternoon outside the Satellite Student Union. Each third of the painting featured imagery and words that helped them “shine on” through tumultuous times.

“Through my faith, family and children is how I made it through,” said Blattel, one of 76 cancer survivors to showcase their work in this year’s The Art of Life exhibit, “Shine On.” Her portion of the painting had scripture and names of family members next to flower petals.

“It was a hard struggle, but I did it.”

The Art of Life Cancer Foundation, a nonprofit that originated in 2008 as “healing arts” program, hosted a crowd of about 300 at its annual exhibit unveiling the works of cancer survivors who, through their works, illustrated the struggles and journeys of battling the disease.

Sunday’s crowd packed the Satellite Student Union before the unveiling to watch an interpretive dance by Breaking Barriers and a speed painting performance by Rick Alonzo and two cancer survivors, Rebecca Avila and Jenni Stagis.

The works of art were completed by first-time program participants, some of them as young as age 9. The participants are patients six different cancer centers throughout the Valley.

The program aims to help cancer survivors mend through the healing process.

“I painted with my three young daughters,” said Dr. Jenna Sawdon-Dea, president of The Art of Life Cancer Foundation and a Fresno State physical therapy professor.

“I painted bald, but something happened. As I painted, I started to better process this crazy cancer journey, and that allowed me to move forward and keep continuing to enjoy life,” she said.

“When you allow yourself to have a little bit of that creative expression, it can really help you find a little bit of new self and purpose in your life.”

Dr. Honora Chapman, a Fresno State humanities professor and a Stage 3 cancer survivor for 18 years, said her four-piece artwork, “The Landscape of Our Lives,” centered on the theme, “It takes a village for each of us to navigate through this journey.”

The work, by Chapman and her friends Claudia Hall, Heidi Fiorentino, Dianne Oller and Bebe Long, was showcased as four different paintings – a beach, a wine trail, churches and houses. When combined they have a single path that runs through each individual part.

Of the creation process, Chapman said, “We were so engrossed in it, that we barely looked at each other. Isn’t it wild that it all came together?”

The foundation also announced plans to build a healing garden at the northern edge of Woodward Park near the Fort Washington Road entrance, said Dr. Mark Somma, a Fresno State political science professor and project director of the healing garden project.

An early conceptual design of the healing garden, which is pending city approval, has been planned by local landscape architects, construction experts and Fresno State engineering faculty and students. It will feature a trail, playscapes for children and showcase the works of cancer survivors who have gone through The Art of Life Program.

“This garden is made by cancer survivors for cancer survivors,” said Jenelle Higton, executive director of The Art of Life Cancer Foundation.

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