Over the past five years, musician, teacher and skater Peggy Jo Wilhelm has contended with a mysterious blood disorder. It caused damage to her brain and body. Shes been in a coma.
Shes undergone rigorous therapies and five surgeries. Shes had to relearn to speak twice. Her life has been focused on regaining basic skills like walking and skills at which she once excelled, like reading music.
I just get tired sometimes with all that relearning, said Wilhelm.
But learning something new glass fusing has been a key part of her recovery. The newness of the art is a refuge and relief.
I didnt have to compare it to anything Id done before my illness, said Wilhelm.
The third annual Creative Healing Exhibition Thursday at the Elks Rehab Hospital featured work by Wilhelm and seven other former Elks patients.
The show began three years ago at the suggestion of Kristi Pardue, who runs the Elks outpatient brain injury program, said Christine Bubb, Elks spokeswoman.
Pardue noticed that several patients were making art as part of their recoveries. She asked if the Elks could host an art show.
Theres nothing more on mission for what were trying to do, said Bubb.
She credited Wilhelm with summing up the philosophy behind the exhibition, and much of the work at the Elks:
Life after an illness or injury can be lived differently. Not better or worse, just differently.
LIKE A CORKSCREW
The annual one-day show has been a success, drawing hundreds of art lovers. The number of participants is limited by the amount of exhibition space at the hospital, but Elks staffers recruit new artists each year to keep the show fresh, said Bubb. Work is for sale; all proceeds go to the artists.
Wilhelm exhibited an entire years worth of work, glass as well as ceramics, including a totem pole that required 20 pounds of clay. The totem tells the circuitous story of Wilhelms healing journey.
When people have acute illness, other people tend to think theres a single moment when youre cured. But healing is more like a corkscrew. Theres fear, grief, support and love, said Wilhelm, whos been in and out of hospitals and clinics so many times.
Wilhelm has no hitch in her speech that would reveal what shes been through. She still notices a lack of coordination between the right and left sides of her body, but its not something someone meeting her for the first time would detect. Shes dealing with memory issues and the feeling that serious illness is a kind of betrayal by a body she always treated well.
Every day is a challenge, she said.
But her healing and her art continue. Shes unable to drive, so she has a studio, complete with kiln, in her garage.
When Im feeling well, Im out there working, she said.
BRINGING ARTINTO THE LIGHT
Artist Marilyn Cosho was part of the Elks first Creative Healing exhibition. She was back this year, showing a collection of miniature chairs made of twigs; fairy bags that open and close despite being smaller than a postage stamp; and what she calls her wee houses. Theyre about the size of a thumbnail. They have acorn tops for roofs.
Some years ago, Cosho was experiencing difficulties including confusion and feelings of being overwhelmed. She saw a doctor at the Elks. His advice led to her diagnosis of Asbergers syndrome, a kind of autism, at the age of 54.
Shes experienced the therapeutic power of art firsthand. She had always made collages as a way to quiet some of the unease she felt because of her condition. But she kept her work hidden away. Being diagnosed and getting treatment changed everything for her, she said.
I finally understood myself.
She started being able to show her work in public.
Cosho worked as a teachers assistant for 16 years. She is now is a full-time artist. Her condition comes with certain advantages when working in the Lilliputian scale she favors.
I can be in my own little world, she said.
Shes a member of the Treasure Valley Artists Alliance and is working on a miniature version of painter Frida Kahlos famous blue house in Mexico City for the groups upcoming exhibition.
Now Cosho is helping spread the word about healing through art beyond her own experience. She has a single art student, a boy with a more severe autism than her own. He loves to draw.
Anna Webb: 377-6431