Willow River State Park

Willow River State Park was the best hike of last summer. My friend Jeanne was in town to prepare her parents’ house for an estate sale. Sadly she lost both parents within six months of each other.

In July, I had a show of my art at the New Richmond, Wis., hospital near Willow River State Park. My artwork has been on a long journey these past few years. Five years ago, I began creating large, moody drawings. I also started doing a doodle a day at the same time. This new trend began just before we sold our home in Bloomington and moved to Minneapolis.

Because of the recession and the slowing book business, I had time to work on some personal artwork. Barry was beginning to change — but I didn’t know yet that the cause was frontotemporal dementia (FTD). On top of that, I discovered that we were in serious debt. Everything was confusing, but I just couldn’t put a finger on what was wrong with Barry. I felt at loose ends all the time. Once we sold our home and moved, I kept drawing. These pictures are deep blue with black bird images — because I really wanted to just fly away half of the time. I drew homes and trees, dreaming of a place to call our own. The drawings were a kind of therapy for me.

Art on the move

Between book jobs, I drew and drew in kind of a numbing trance until one day I saw an online call from the Phipps Art Center in Hudson, Wis., for artists to submit their work. I was excited when my work made it into a group show slated for the following year. It was also through the Phipps Art Center that my work got into a program called Healing Arts. My first pieces traveled to an assisted living center in Bayport, Minn. Little did I know that I soon would be looking for a place like that for my husband.

Then my art went to the hospital in Hudson, Wis., where a young woman and her husband starred at one of my drawings while she was in labor. After the birth of her healthy baby, the new mother tracked me down and bought that artwork!


my path

My art has moved as much as I have during the last few years. From Hudson, it went to Phipps Art Center for a month-long show, then to Penny George Center for Healing at Abbott Hospital in Minneapolis. When that show ended, I moved it all to my new apartment until the show in New Richmond. One piece I did during that time still hangs in my apartment. It is special. Barry really liked it and somehow had it framed even though we had no money. I remember he told me that he had won a gift certificate from a frame shop, although he never could explain how and when he won it. This was all before we knew he had FTD.

Barry did so many odd things back then. So what did I do? I just continued making art, hoping everything would be okay! Today I love looking at that piece, knowing Barry liked it so much that he found a way to get it framed. Before FTD, he was always in charge of picking out frames, and he was good at it.

Back to last summer. The New Richmond hospital had its show opening on a beautiful day. Jeanne needed a break from packing up her parents’ place, so we decided to hike before the opening. We hiked for a couple of hours, talking away. It was so beautiful and quiet in the woods that we felt we were up in The Boundary Waters! Willow River is truly a magical place. Getting to the falls was the highlight of the day! We sat on the big, sandy beach and watched kids swimming in the late afternoon sunshine — me with a cold beer and Jeanne with a sparkling water.

It was hard to leave the park, but we had to get to the opening. Of course, no one came to the opening except the artists being exhibited. But it was fun to see the work up, and the hike made it a pretty great day.

Healing art in more ways than one

For a long time, I thought it a bit odd that the art I did during the toughest time in my life is now part of a healing arts program. But then maybe it’s not so odd after all. No matter how bad things are, I can still create — and the act of creating helps me relax and breathe. It is healing for me to draw each day!

That artwork is still not done traveling. It went to Gallery 122 in Minneapolis this last December for my Five Years Of Doodles Show. Two of my larger drawings sold, including my favorite called My Kids in the Moonlight. But it’s okay because I have some new paper ready to draw on. Instead of deep blues and black crows, I plan to remember that happy hike at Willow River.

It’s time to use some bright, cheerful colors!

For more information on Willow River, go to http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/willowriver/

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15 comments on “HIKE THIRTY-NINE
  1. Ann Sundberg says:

    Hi Nancy, Is there a gallery, online or otherwise, where you have art that is for sale? I’d be interested – now and in the future. I’m sure others would be, as well.


  2. Susan Balfe says:

    I love your work. I love the dark intense colours, but bright can certainly be a good thing, too.
    Our younger daughter is an on line video game artist in the Bay Area. Her website is kateart@blogspot.com, I think. In her head there is a book about her dad. The last image is of an old man in a small room at the top of a tower, and a closing door.
    The book has not been written, the tale not at its end, yet. But in the meantime, I really do like your art.

  3. Julee Evans Parker says:

    your talent brings healing to you, and joy to the world!

  4. Deb says:

    You are just so amazing! Just keep on breathing and the world is out there with love for what you do!

  5. Larry Satrom says:

    Your words and artwork make a great ‘healing arts program’ for the rest of us struggling through the same journey, especially those of us who are unable to share our struggles in your wonderfully transparent style.
    Thank you for sharing!

  6. Pat Bauer says:

    Hi Nancy . . . I sometimes put one of your doodles up on my screen to show my 6th grade students at the beginning of each class. Today it was your recent “I Love to Read” doodle. I tell my students how much I admire that no matter how tough a day you’re having, you produce a drawing every day. I use you as an example of how we all need to find healthy ways of dealing with stress, sadness, etc. So your quote from above “No matter how bad things are, I can still create ‚Äî and the act of creating helps me relax and breathe. It is healing for me to draw each day!” is so perfect!

  7. Beth says:

    Nancy, you are so incredibly brave to put yourself out there in so many ways.
    I admire you greatly.


  8. gwen hauser says:

    My husband,Jack, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2002 and in 2003 we filed bankruptcy and sold our house 3 years later. I started painting again, in 2007. Ravens showed up in my work. The process of painting and seeing my emotions surface has carried me through the last 8 years. Thank you for sharing your story and Barry’s story.

  9. Eunice R Johnson says:

    Once again, I am so grateful for your “Put One Foot in Front of the Other” and the pearls of wisdom I find in them. You have such a gift of putting words together to describe the FTD journey. Your sentence ….”no matter how bad things get, I can still create…….” is so inspirational. Thanks for sharing your journey.

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