Lebanon Valley Council on the Arts‘ (LVCOA) newest exhibit, Art for Healing, will debut during the First Friday Art Walk, May 7, from 5 to 8 p.m. The exhibit is on display at LVCOA’s Gallery 770, 770 Cumberland Street, Lebanon.

The exhibit, running through the month of May, features artwork from eight local artists. Regular gallery hours are Saturdays 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Group tours are available by appointment.

“Cliff” by Laurel Black

The theme, Art for Healing, touches on the artists’ experiences using art to cope with a variety of life stressors such as grief, loss, health setbacks, mental health conditions, or loved ones experiencing illness or grief.

LVCOA board member and secretary Courtney Reimann said the theme was inspired by her personal experience seeing a friend and fellow board member struggle with a cancer diagnosis. The theme was also inspired by the global experience of living through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Art can be a catalyst for processing grief, dealing with pain, guiding consciousness during mental distress, and balancing equilibrium during chaotic times,” said LVCOA president Sharon Zook.

“The concept of healing through art also extends to mental wellness. Also, a major medical illness or diagnosis doesn’t just impact the individual, it also changes family, friends, and caregivers,” Reimann added.

“Emergence” by Sharon Zook

Both Reimann and Zook are among the artists with work on display. Zook shared how art helped her through thyroid cancer and became the catalyst for her involvement with LVCOA. She was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2011.

“I had just completed all coursework and clinical internship requirements for a Master’s degree in applied clinical psychology from Penn State, but had not graduated,” Zook explained. “Three days after my second surgery, my mom and a friend, Laurel, took me to the graduation and pushed me in a wheelchair to a prepared opening among the rows and rows of chairs.”

A few months later, Laurel suggested they get together with a lady they met on the First Friday Art Walk in Lebanon to learn how to watercolor.

“Growth” by Courtney Reimann

“At that time, I was very weak and was preparing for upcoming radio-iodine treatment. Training as a therapist gave me no advantage in walking through this experience, and I became emotionally destabilized like my patients on the psych unit, but thought I would do well to listen to those who cared. I never had an interest in watercolor, and only knew about kids’ watercolor sets, but decided to try it,” Zook said. “It was watercolor that gave me a new perspective during a very difficult experience.”

The following year she heard the art center may close down and was upset. “Art was my lifeline during that time, and the connections I needed most at that time were because of the art center. I couldn’t imagine walking through the experience without the connections that channeled through the art center. I wasn’t a member, but sought answers and offered any help the organization could use to pay back my appreciation,” she explained.

She said the First Friday Art Walk led to the watercolor class, which led to her becoming an exhibiting watercolor artist a half year later, then board member. Zook is now board president and a mayoral appointee to the city’s art committee. “It demonstrates the power of art in transforming lives. I don’t even consider practicing in an office at a hospital: prevention in public spaces is where I belong. Looking back, I see it clearly,” she said.

“Vortex” by Angela Funk

Zook said LVCOA wasn’t sure enough artists would participate in the Art for Healing exhibit, but at the last minute, pieces came in. “One of the artists, Laurel Black, said she didn’t know collecting the art for the exhibit would be so emotional. Her oldest son, an arborist, was using proper safety gear, but tragically fell from a tree to his death two years ago. She turned to art to cope with the grief and loss,” Zook explained.

She said in addition other artwork, the exhibit includes an unfinished book Black created. The book is a beautifully illustrated poetic collection of memories that reflects deep and passionate mother-love.

Another artist Hope Kutenits said she looks back on her first canvas and a statement someone made about it: “Looks like a 3rd grader painted it.”

“Instead of getting salty (crying), I did what I always do… I worked and worked and worked. I never believed in myself – what I could achieve – until art found me. Through all of my life’s twists turns and turmoil, art never ever gave up on me,” she said in her artist’s statement. “Healing is a choice. Through art I have chosen to evolve into the best version of myself. With age I have learned that good art isn’t about technique as much as it is about passion. Art saves lives. God bless the art that starts out like it was done by a third grader.”

For more information about LVCOA art exhibits or to submit artwork, visit the organization’s website or its Facebook page.

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Rochelle A. Shenk is a writer with over two decades experience. Her work appears in regional business publications and lifestyle magazines as well as area newspapers. She writes about business and municipal sectors as well as arts and entertainment, human interest features, and travel and tourism. Rochelle...