Arts: Fighting cancer with creativity
As part of her bout with illness, painter finds art leads to more life
When artist Susan
Wood Reider learned she had breast cancer, her first instinct was to
stop creating art. The Tennessee native focused so intensely on
surviving the treatment for her disease that art took a back seat for
about a year.
Then one day, Reider
was sitting in her oncologist’s office and noticed how dull and drab the
waiting room was. The wheels of creativity started turning in Reider’s
Reider procured a
grant from the Cultural Alliance of Greater Knoxville, Tenn., and began
reaching out to medical professionals, breast cancer patients and other
survivors. She soon launched an exhibit entitled “Strange Gifts:
Honoring the Journey.” The display won the Blair Sadler International
Healing Arts Award.
started out for me as a way to channel what I was feeling about my
illness into something creative, but it turned out to be so much more,”
What the art healing
project became, in essence, was a way for Reider and other women to go
public with their illnesses and show the world that they were not about
to give up on their lives, and to show through their art how surviving
the illness had transformed them for the better. The exhibit garnered so
much attention that when Reider moved to New Hampshire in 2003, she
sought out a way to organize a similar project in Concord.
“That’s when I met
Pam [Tarbell, owner of Mill Brook Gallery], and when I told her about my
idea, she said she had been kicking around a similar idea for a long
time,” said Reider. “Once I saw her gallery and her studio space, I knew
there was no other place I could do this.”
Last October, to
observe Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Tarbell recruited other artists
who were also breast cancer survivors and mounted the very first exhibit
of “Moving On…A Breast Cancer Survivor’s Exhibit.” The show was a huge
success, but it was also bittersweet for Reider.
“It was during that
time that I got my second diagnosis of breast cancer,” she said.
It was also during
that inaugural show that Tarbell’s close friend, Inga Dinter, also of
Concord, broke the news about her own diagnosis. Dinter was a holistic
healer at the time, but she had once been a goldsmith while living in
her native Germany.
“That diagnosis just
blew me away,” Tarbell said. “It was too close to home for me. I had
been dealing with the subject matter with these artists I was working
with, and that was moving and terribly difficult for me, but when Inga
came to me during that show and told me about her own diagnosis, … it
was too difficult.”
The events that
transpired around that show were so powerful that Tarbell decided to
mount a new show for 2005. “Moving On…A Breast Cancer Survivor’s Exhibit
II” opened Sept. 27 at the Mill Brook Gallery and Sculpture Garden in
Concord. Reider is returning for the exhibit, showing both the art she
created for the original show and a new series of pieces she created
since receiving her second diagnosis.
“I think my work
after the second diagnosis became more quiet, more introspective,
because that is where I’m at now,” Reider said.
Dinter was so
inspired by the original show that she began working as a goldsmith
again. She crafted several pieces of jewelry for the new show.
“One of the things I
like so much about making jewelry is that it is usually kept for life,”
Dinter said. “In a way, coming back to being a goldsmith was like coming
back to myself.”
Dinter’s approach to
creating jewelry has changed since battling cancer.
“I just do what I
can do, and that’s all,” she said. “I make pieces that I would like, or
that I think my friends would like. I’m not so worried about anything
else. It’s much more simple.”
Rounding out the
roster of artists are Portsmouth-based sculptor and painter Judith Shah,
Windham-based mask-maker Sandy Sorter and Boston-based collage artist
Laura Davidson. Dinter says the women have become very close, even
though their experiences and the art that came out of those experiences
are very different.
her diagnosis differently,” she said. “Some women are quiet about it.
They want to keep it to themselves. Some women want to tell everyone
they know, because they are angry, or they need support, or they want
other women to know about this disease so they can take care of
“It’s such a
pervasive condition,” Reider said. “It touches so many lives. I’m sure
if people sat down and thought about it, they know at least one woman —
a friend, a family member, a co-worker, maybe a friend of a friend — who
has had breast cancer.”
All of the works in
this exhibit are for sale. A percentage of sales from the show will be
donated to the Breast Care Center of Concord. The Mill Brook Gallery and
Sculpture Garden is located at 236 Hopkinton Rd. in Concord. For more
information, call 226-2046, or visit themillbrookgallery.com.