Each of these artists has had a life-changing experience with cancer. And through their art, a story unfolds.
More than 100 paintings from local artists will be displayed at the "Celebrate Life" exhibit, which opens with an artists' reception Sunday and runs through July 10 at the Uptown Artist Gallery in Dade City.
Cancer patients, survivors and others touched by the disease gather weekly at the Healing Arts Studio and paint their stress away. It's a refuge from chemotherapy and radiation treatments. A respite for caregivers. At the art studio in Zephyrhills, students leave their troubles at the door.
"Just expressing your feelings through art, I think, is a very healing process," said Keri Everlove White, the director of development for the Florida Medical Center Foundation of Caring, which funds the art studio.
Survivors come in every age. One participant is 93. There's a 13-year-old boy who just started coming with his grandmother. Both are cancer survivors. One woman is not a cancer survivor, but survived burn injuries and lost an arm.
Mary Sears, 69, is a Zephyrhills artist who volunteers her time each Wednesday giving painting lessons to the group. Then she scurries to the Uptown Artist Gallery, which she co-owns with Suzanne Desneux. Neither Sears nor Desneux accepts a salary for work at the gallery. They just want to provide a spotlight for local artists.
"Creativity … is essential to the healing of a human being. Not just for cancer," Sears said.
And she has experienced the benefits of therapeutic art for herself. Years ago, when she battled breast cancer, she lost herself in her paintings.
Art therapy "is not a cure," Sears said. "(But) if we could integrate creativity into the medical, it would be phenomenal."
Sears will host the 14-day exhibit at Uptown, an approximately 1,700-square-foot gallery. She calls the "Celebrate Life" display affordable art because most of the work will be offered for sale, with printed copies going for about $10. Framed originals will be offered, too. The full profits from each sale will go directly back to the artist. Typically, the gallery charges artists a nominal "membership" fee, but there's no fee for these artists.
"My students inspire me every day," Sears said. "They don't give up. They just don't quit. They share with each other. They support one another. They've been to hell and back."
Joan Connell, 72, dropped off her acrylic and oil portraits last week for display at the exhibit. She battled a noncancer illness years ago and has been painting at the Healing Arts studio for a year now.
"It's just done wonders in my life," said Connell, of Zephyrhills.
Over the five years Sears has been teaching at Healing Arts studio, a few of her students have succumbed to cancer. But there's a message of hope for visitors at the Celebrate Life exhibit.
"We're cancer survivors," Sears said. "Not victims. We beat it."
Ebony Windom can be reached at email@example.com.