Inspiration to create art can come from anywhere. Some pick up a paintbrush to feel. Others fire up a kiln or thread a needle to forget pain and transport themselves to another place.
Those like Phylis Smith, a 72-year-old cancer survivor, turn to art to detach themselves from life’s troubles. She especially found solace in beadwork when she was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2015.
“It’s such a tough battle because chemotherapy makes you sick, and radiation makes you not want to eat,” Smith said. “So if I can distance myself emotionally to give myself a space to relax and to not concentrate on how sick or tired I feel, but on the project that I’m doing right now, that helps me to be less stressed and more in touch with where I’m at. I stop worrying about what the future has in store.”
Smith, who retired as a mental health nurse from INTEGRIS, has not only helped those going through cancer, she’s also seen her loved ones suffer. Her husband Al Smith, 75, battled colon cancer 21 years ago, while her son fought the same eight years ago. She was diagnosed with cancer this past year.
Smith and about 100 area artists of all ages, backgrounds, mediums and skill levels will come together this month for the INTEGRIS Cancer Institute’s Celebration of Life Art Show. Despite their differences, they all are connected; they’ve all, in some way, been touched by cancer. Artists include cancer survivors, caregivers, health care providers and friends and family members of those who’ve had cancer.
The show features all forms of art—about 200 pieces total—including fiber art, graphics, mixed media, watercolor paintings, photography, pottery and sculpture, many of which are for sale. The show kicks off with an opening reception for participating artists and their families July 29, and the art show runs through Sept. 8 and is available for the public to view from 7:30am to 5pm each day.
Joe Holcomb, director of the INTEGRIS Cancer Institute’s Troy and Dollie Smith Wellness Center, said he’s more impressed every year with the artists’ talents and professionalism. More children are submitting works each year, and more professional artists from around the area also are getting involved.
“Artists that are very well known here in Oklahoma have been increasingly coming to our art show and many of them have participated over the years,” he said. “Several of them have their own galleries in the area.”
Many artists’ personal essays accompany their pieces and explain their cancer journey, Holcomb added.
“They’ve used art as a curative mechanism to help them through their cancer journey,” he said. “It is very therapeutic. They’re expressing their feelings in a nonverbal way. They can put that down either in pencil or through sculpture or through mixed media and show their feelings, thoughts, anxieties, anger and celebration once they finish treatment. That all comes out when they create art.”
Holcomb said it’s not uncommon for the artwork and essays to stir up emotions in those poring over the pieces, especially those who are currently going through cancer treatment.
“After the art show is going, you see people who will spend an hour alongside the artwork, and you see people wiping tears away because they’re really touched by those stories of the artist,” he said.
Both Smith and Holcomb commend the art show’s originator, Pat Lynn Moses, an art therapist now living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for launching an event that’s continued to grow and help so many who felt they were alone in their journey with cancer. Moses founded INTEGRIS’ art therapy program and retired from the institute about seven years ago.
“She wanted people to get in touch with their inner self through art and display it,” said Smith, a close friend of Moses’. “When you can see something up on the wall that you’ve accomplished during the worst of times, you get such a tremendous, overwhelming pride that you were able to accomplish that even in the darkest hours.”
Creating art also helps Smith spiritually by “lifting her spirits and connecting her to something greater than herself,” she said. Smith hopes the Celebration of Life Art Show helps people understand they can, and should, continue to create, no matter how difficult life gets.
“We can’t control everything in our lives, but no matter what comes our way, we can create something that’s beautiful out of it,” she said. “Whether it’s a piece of art, beading a bracelet, crocheting a blanket, drawing a picture or doing pottery—cancer can’t take away our ability to create.”
To learn more about the Celebration of Life Art Show, call 773-6600 or visit integrisok.com/cancer-institute-oklahoma-celebration-of-life. The show is at INTEGRIS Cancer Institute, 5911 W Memorial Rd, OKC.