Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - November 11, 2022

Art for the heart

If I were in the mood to buy some work of art, a doctor's office doesn't seem like a place to begin. But that's the place I not only bumped into some, but made a purchase as well!

Back in July and early August, I was making regular visits to my radiation oncologist to complete my therapy for the breast cancer that had been removed earlier in the year. Husband Art often joined me on these daily jaunts, and we were struck by the artwork hanging in the waiting room. I was puzzled by some, while others impressed me with their realistic details. Colorful and sometimes quirky, the paintings provided welcome entertainment before being called back for a treatment.

Art was the first to notice that the works were produced by members of the Columbian Artists Group. When we quizzed the receptionist, she informed us the artists are based in nearby Wamego and someone comes to the office once a month to change the pieces on display. The arrangement saves the medical personnel from having to locate and hang wall decorations, while providing an ever-changing distraction for their patients. It's a rather creative way for artists to get their work out in public and maybe make an occasional sale.

The group, founded in December 1998 and conceived as a support group for experienced two-dimensional artists, now has painters who work in oil, acrylic and watercolor, as well as sculptors, ceramicists and metal workers. Their work can be seen in the Columbian Theatre in Wamego, in area businesses, and in various local doctors' offices.

I'm not really a fan of abstract art, but Alicia Firstbrook-Stott's "Junk of the Heart" pieces intrigued me. Done in different colors, each piece was three-dimensional and contained unusual items - silk leaves, plastic clothes pins, beads, rocks, sequins, shards of broken ceramics, and other found objects.

She has taught art to kindergarten-through-college students and urges them to not waste anything and see how found objects might be useful. She explained how she came to use the heart in her art.

I have always despised the symbol of the heart. To me, it represented something that everyone knows how to draw and a sappy feeling of love ..... uggghhhh! I thought, "Real artists don't use hearts or any symbols for that matter." [But] the year 2007, I went through an incredibly tumultuous time in my life. The result [was] I literally 'felt' the spectrum of emotions my heart endured.

She had married her college sweetheart and they were together nine years before PTSD from his military service drove them apart. "... I was raised in a Christian home and never thought I would be divorced. It tore me apart. ..."

After hearing her story, a bit of my heart went out to her and I saw her "Junk of the Heart" in a new light.

In an adjacent waiting room, I discovered watercolors from the Manhattan Arts Center's Watercolor Studio. A painting of sunflowers caught my eye. I have a collection featuring these cheery yellow blooms, and I'm always on the lookout for original works. It now hangs with an acrylic sunflower painting my mother did.

Artist Chuck Marr, an emeritus horticulture professor, is part of the studio's group. He said most haven't had professional training, although some have art degrees. They paint, have critiques, and sponsor workshops where they can learn from professional artists.

Cheri Graham has been a member since she retired seven years ago. She said she delved right in after inheriting her mother's art materials after her death.

... I always wanted to be in an art group so I forced myself to be social, which has never been easy for me. The group was so welcoming and nonthreatening. From day one, it was where I wanted to be every Wednesday at 9 a.m. ... We critique individual paintings every week. This was a bit scary at first but everyone was helpful and encouraging. By coming together ..., we learn from each other and work through our watercolor struggles. Members paint before and after critique time. You learn so much by doing and watching others paint. ...

My friend Lana Ellis is involved with both the Manhattan Arts Center studios and the Columbian Artists Group.

... The Manhattan Arts Center here has a lot going on, with open studios, and classes and all. I have been going to the Monday night and Thursday night studios. ... The Arts Center often has exhibits of the different studios' work. There are many talented artists in our area! I feel I am just a "piker" with my attempts, but I actually like most of what I produce. ... I feel privileged to be part of these groups, and I learn so much! My wish is that the public can be more informed and aware of these wonderful resources we have available for all ages!

Kellie Dillinger, the president of the Columbian Artists Group, said the organization currently has 38 artists. Many of them participated in a show at the William T. Kemper Foundation Art Gallery at Kansas State University for a month in August-September. Since the works in the doctors' offices had whetted my interest, I decided to visit the gallery. I was impressed with the variety and quality of the works on display.

Lana's pink water-color-and-pencil "Flamingo" made me smile. Donna Keeler Rose's "The Meadowlark" - drawn with Sharpie markers - was so detailed I could almost "feel" its feathers. Joni Pederson Speirs' hand-painted stoneware plate was well-crafted with its black bird, pink and yellow flowers, and greenery.

Sometimes good things happen when you least expect them. The treatments in my doctor's office helped to heal my body. But I had received an unexpected bonus. Art is something that comes from the heart and is meant for the heart. During an unsettling time, those artists helped heal my soul as well.

Top row (l-r): my latest sunflower acquisition hangs below a field of the flowers my mother painted; one of Firstbrook-Stott's hearts; Rose's meadowlark; ceramic pieces in the Kemper gallery. Bottom row (l-r): wall art in my oncologist's waiting room; Ellis' flamingo; Manhattan residents will recognize Graham's "Poyntz Lights."

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