Art class offers space for healing and hope

Feb 26, 2018

Participant drawing on watercolored paper.
Credit Courtesy of Sheri Gaynor

The Art Base in Basalt offers a variety of exhibitions and classes for children and adults. One of the organization’s newer courses is “The Art of Healing and Hope." It’s an art therapy class for cancer patients and people experiencing trauma and grief.


Everyone in the class has a reason why they are here. The licensed art therapist, Sheri Gaynor, starts the session with a meditation, before sharing her own story of how art therapy has transformed her life.  

“Through my own journey with addiction and also with depression, art has allowed me a space to move out some of those really deep dark feelings and emotions and give them a place to go in a healthy environment and in a healthy way," said Gaynor.


The program is a new partnership between The Art Base and the Calaway Young Cancer Center. But the class was recently opened up to anyone who’s suffering from trauma. One of the only rules of class is not to comment on other people’s art. Because, as Gaynor said, it’s not about the final product, but about the process.


“We’re not here to make something that we’re going to hang on the wall or show other people," she said. "Really, it is about just giving voice to something that typically we don’t give ourselves the space to give voice to.”


During class, Debi Martinez-Brun makes an accordion book out of thick sheets of watercolor paper. She and Gaynor met a decade ago, during Martinez-Brun’s second cancer diagnosis. She’s now battling cancer for a third time. She said the weight of the emotional hardship is heavy.


“I could say, okay, I was re-diagnosed with cancer, but I just knew that there was a lot going on inside me that I couldn’t verbalize. And doing that art therapy was helpful.”


“The idea is that there's many benefits to creating artwork, especially in terms of recovery, for people dealing with cancer, grief or any sort of recovery," said Genna Moe, The Art Base's executive director.


She said the Calaway Young Cancer Center and The Art Base are hoping to grow the program because there’s a need for it in this valley.


“This is an opportunity for people in recovery outside of the hospital to get together and make art together," she said.


Studies show that being creative is good for the brain.


“And it helps heal," Moe added. "So whether you’re an experienced artist or a beginner artist, I think just challenging yourself to do something new and express yourself in that visual form can be really helpful and therapeutic.”


After painting each side of the watercolor sheet, Gaynor instructs the class to rip their paintings.


“Which was challenging for some people to be able to let go of the piece of art that they had created that expressed this feeling and emotion, which is all actually very much part of a metaphor of letting go.”


That’s when their pages became not an expression of grief, but an opportunity to heal.