Life blooms in exhibit by artists who faced death

Sky Heatherton

Sky Heatherton

PORT ANGELES — The atrium is abloom, thanks to a flock of artists who, having faced death, are determined to live life to the hilt.

Through vivid hues, clay, wood, glass and an elk-hide drum, these artists share what they find beautiful: magenta roses and deep-pink lilies, wild creatures, the faces of loved ones.

More than 100 works are on display inside The Landing mall atrium in “Embracing Life through Art . . . the Journey Back,” the second annual exhibition by people whose lives are changed by cancer.

The show is open to the public through Oct. 31 on the ground floor of The Landing at Railroad Avenue and North Lincoln Street, and community members are invited to join the artists for a reception from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday.

Admission is free to the show and to the reception, which will feature music by Thom Davis.

In addition, “Embracing” will be part of Port Angeles’ Second Weekend Art Walk, with another reception from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 13.

While the art itself — from the large-scale canvases to the lithe silver necklaces — provides plenty to see, this show offers another look inside the artists’ hearts.

Artists’ reflections

Posted beside each cluster of work is a black-and-white portrait of the artist, made by Port Angeles photographer Brenda Johnson, and a short written reflection.

“In many ways, it is the beginning of a new life,” writes painter Hazelle Hout, who faced breast cancer in 2000. “So move forward, and enjoy your life in every way possible.”

Hout’s acrylic paintings show the things that make her life sweet: her roses in full bloom and her cribbage partner.

And at the end of her artist’s statement, she adds “my hero” — her husband, Jerry, who has seen her through everything.

In another corner of the atrium is the Tribute Wall, where five artists have placed their work along with remembrances of loved ones lost to cancer.

Among the tributes is one to Landing mall owner and arts patron Paul Cronauer, who died Aug. 16 after a long struggle with the disease.

Sky Heatherton and Sharon Shenar, organizers of “Embracing Life,” will present their artwork to Cronauer’s widow, Sarah, after the show closes.

“Embracing Life” has the power to bring people together regardless of their differences. This is what contributing artists have seen from the day they began hanging their work.

Soon after a few of them gathered for photographs Thursday morning, the artists were busy chatting, hugging — and then talking animatedly with people who had stopped in to see what was up inside The Landing.

“The other day as we were setting up, two ladies from Canada came in. We were telling them what the show is all about,” said Pamela Dick, whose abstract digital art is in the exhibition.

“They stood there with tears in their eyes,” Dick said, as she and a couple of other artists shared their stories.

Dick added that she participated in “Embracing Life” as a tribute to her husband, Mike.

“He had a melanoma and was given a 30 percent chance of surviving five years,” she said.

It’s been six years now, and Mike is cancer-free.

Varied artwork

The artwork filling the atrium’s two large rooms is as varied as the artists’ life experiences.

There’s an enormous scenic photograph by Cynthia Isenberger; silversmith Randolf Foster’s jewelry; the elk-hide drum by Makah tribal member Regena Bain and resplendent lilies by Melissa Penic, as well as Heatherton’s fish, crustaceans and other animals painted in the Australian aboriginal style.

True Heart, a Port Townsend artist diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2010, contributed a ceramic creation to the show, along with a few words.

“Never give up. Somehow we must find that wellspring inside that contains Hope and Creative Thought,” she writes.

Then: “Love is the way to ultimate healing.”

David Haight, a Port Angeles artist known for his irreverence and giant “Mr. Kat” sculptures, writes in his statement that cancer of the tonsils took just about everything from him.

Art is what he has left, Haight notes — plus a “festive stinkin’ attitude.”

That has seen him through the past four years, during which he’s been a prolific graphic designer, painter, sculptor and party-goer.

Rachel Braun, diagnosed with leukemia a few weeks before her fifth birthday — 27 years ago ­— has undergone a bone marrow transplant, numerous complications and a second affliction with cancer, this time of the colon.

Her watercolor paintings, of delicate flowers and a majestic cedar trunk, leap out at the passer-by. They fairly command a closer look at beauty and strength.

“When you have a disease like cancer, it tries to steal your life,” Braun said. “My artwork helps me get back some of that life.”

In “Embracing,” she’s “not putting these out to sell, sell, sell.” Instead, Braun added, “the artists are trying to express and open themselves.”

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Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5062, or at diane.urbani@peninsuladailynews.com.

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