Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Instructor gets a home for her healing art

Mary Sears, art instructor for the Florida Medical Clinic Foundation of Caring, reacts with surprise Wednesday as Sheri Schwab, right, president of the foundation, reveals during a ceremony that the building behind them is Sears’ new studio, where she and her students can work.

KERI WIGINTON | TIMES

Mary Sears, art instructor for the Florida Medical Clinic Foundation of Caring, reacts with surprise Wednesday as Sheri Schwab, right, president of the foundation, reveals during a ceremony that the building behind them is Sears’ new studio, where she and her students can work.

ZEPHYRHILLS — Forgetting things is usually not a good sign, especially when you are sick.

But when that sickness is cancer, anything that gives the ability to forget is a blessing.

For Mary Sears, it was art.

Getting lost in her painting got her through the breast cancer pinpointed during a routine mammogram. It made her forget about her next date with the chemotherapy needle. It made her forget the clumps of hair left on her pillow. It made her forget her sallow cheeks.

"The world could crash around my ankles, and I wouldn't have realized it," said Sears, who turns 68 Sunday and who has been cancer-free for seven years. "That's when it dawned on me that if this helps me, it would help other cancer patients."

Four years ago, Sears began offering weekly classes to oncology patients at Florida Medical Clinic's Zephyrhills office. The program is underwritten by the clinic's nonprofit foundation.

Sears began with about half a dozen students in a clinic board room that had to be transformed each week into a makeshift studio. As word spread, the program grew to about 35 to 40. Space got tighter, but no one minded.

"Some of these people have been through hell and back, and there's never a negative word," Sears said. "There's always laughter and sunshine."

Sears is a self-taught artist whose career began at age 4 when she decorated her mother's new white couch with cherry trees of bright red lipstick.

"I got in big trouble for that," she recalled. At 16, she submitted a drawing of a dog to an art contest. She won. The prize was a scholarship to an art school in New York. She was too young, her parents said. They never sent in the forms. Later, two representatives from the school knocked on the Searses' door in Columbus, Ohio. They said even though Sears was 16, they'd hold the scholarship for two years.

"Absolutely not," her father said. "She's not ever going to be an artist."

Undeterred, Sears checked out every art book she could find at the library. She studied each one. From books she learned how to draw a horse. She also learned what later would become her favorite thing: portraits. She practiced constantly.

"I made all the classic mistakes," she recalled.

As a wife and mother of three children and three more stepchildren, Sears kept up with her art. She would do it at night after the kids went to bed. She would do it early mornings before they woke up. She would use any spare time she could find and paint.

"You always make time for what you love," she said. "God gives each of us a talent. It's up to us to use it."

Sears taught her first class in her home during the four years her family lived in Mexico. Her students were a mix of Mexicans and Americans. She had not yet become proficient in Spanish, but that was okay.

"There are no language barriers with art," she said.

She taught classes at a retirement community in Zephyrhills. She has never taught for pay.

When cancer was diagnosed, art helped heal her spirit. She even painted four oils for her oncologist's office.

"He wanted something restful," she said. Sears donated peaceful landscapes in soft hues.

Then the foundation accepted her offer to teach patients. It would provide all her supplies. All she had to do was show up.

She's been doing that each Wednesday for four years. She shows students how to draw, paint, anything they want. She also teaches them what not to do and offers gentle critiques.

"What's wrong with this painting?" she asked this week as she held up an image of a docked boat. In minutes, the students reeled off a list.

"It's a real morale booster," said Mary Campbell, a 78-year-old breast cancer survivor. "We love our Wednesdays."

Florida Medical Clinic CEO Joe Delatorre noticed the program's popularity and the lack of space for it. He had an idea.

In about three months, the foundation worked out a deal with Realtor Bill Nye to use a building in the clinic's parking lot. It had been Ron's Deli. Before that it was a pizza joint.

Marketing director Janet Wing and other staffers worked frantically to turn it into an art studio. They also worked secretly so they could surprise Sears.

"People asked me if I was getting a new office," Wing said.

To unveil the new studio, the foundation board threw what was being billed as a company picnic. They told the art students only that they had a gift for Sears. Come to the picnic, was all they told Sears.

When Sears showed up, she didn't notice the cloth covering the sign at the top of the building. Foundation president Sheri Schwab took the microphone and mentioned that Sears' birthday was Sunday and they wanted to honor her with a gift. They rolled out a welcome mat. "Creativity Lives Here," it said.

Then, they plopped the mat in front of the new building and ripped the cloth off the Mary Sears Healing Arts Studio sign.

Sears covered her mouth with her hands and teared up.

"I'm living my dream," she said after she was given the key.

Said a voice from the crowd: "You go girl!"

Lisa Buie can be reached at buie@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4604.

>>Fast facts

Florida Medical Clinic

For information about the Florida Medical Clinic or its nonprofit Foundation of Caring, visit www.floridamedicalclinic.com. To register for the Healing Arts program, call (813) 782-6483.

. Fast facts

Florida Medical Clinic

For information about the Florida Medical Clinic or its non-profit Foundation of Caring, visit www.floridamedicalclinic.com. To register for the Healing Arts program, call (813) 782-6483.

Instructor gets a home for her healing art 08/20/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 20, 2008 7:44pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. What you need to know for Thursday, May 25

    News

    Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.

    To catch a ring of poachers who targeted Florida's million-dollar alligator farming industry, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission set up an undercover operation. They created their own alligator farm, complete with plenty of real, live alligators, watched over by real, live undercover wildlife officers. It also had hidden video cameras to record everything that happened. That was two years ago, and on Wednesday wildlife officers announced that they arrested nine people on  44 felony charges alleging they broke wildlife laws governing alligator harvesting, transporting eggs and hatchlings across state lines, dealing in stolen property, falsifying records, racketeering and conspiracy. The wildlife commission released these photos of alligators, eggs and hatchlings taken during the undercover operation. [Courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission]
  2. Trigaux: Amid a record turnout, regional technology group spotlights successes, desire to do more

    Business

    ST. PETERSBURG — They came. They saw. They celebrated Tampa Bay's tech momentum.

    A record turnout event by the Tampa Bay Technology Forum, held May 24 at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, featured a panel of area tech executives talking about the challenges encountered during their respective mergers and acquisitions. Show, from left to right, are: Gerard Purcell, senior vice president of global IT integration at Tech Data Corp.; John Kuemmel, chief information officer at Triad Retail Media, and Chris Cate, chief operating officer at Valpak. [Robert Trigaux, Times]
  3. Take 2: Some fear Tampa Bay Next transportation plan is TBX redux

    Transportation

    TAMPA — For many, Wednesday's regional transportation meeting was a dose of deja vu.

    The Florida Department of Transportation on Monday announced that it was renaming its controversial Tampa Bay Express plan, also known as TBX. The plan will now be known as Tampa Bay Next, or TBN. But the plan remains the same: spend $60 billion to add 90 miles of toll roads to bay area interstates that are currently free of tolls. [Florida Department of Transportation]
  4. Hailed as 'pioneers,' students from St. Petersburg High's first IB class return 30 years later

    Education

    ST. PETERSBURG — The students came from all over Pinellas County, some enduring hot bus rides to a school far from home. At first, they barely knew what to call themselves. All they knew was that they were in for a challenge.

    Class of 1987 alumni Devin Brown, from left, and D.J. Wagner, world history teacher Samuel Davis and 1987 graduate Milford Chavous chat at their table.
  5. Flower boxes on Fort Harrison in Clearwater to go, traffic pattern to stay

    Roads

    I travel Fort Harrison Avenue in Clearwater often and I've noticed that the travel lanes have been rerouted to allow for what looks like flower boxes that have been painted by children. There are also a few spaces that push the travel lane to the center that have no boxes. Is this a permanent travel lane now? It …