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Spotlight
 
Staying Abreast of Therapeutic Art
 

Wildflowers by Loretta Domaszewski

Though it might have been easy to overlook, yesterday marked the last day of breast cancer awareness month. But for cancer survivors, those currently battling the disease and all their loved ones, cancer awareness does not end with the calendar month. For too many, there remains a lifetime of coping and healing in ways largely unaddressed by the medical profession. But to mend that gap, a relatively new form of therapy is gaining momentum and credibility.

Art Therapy retains an elusive persona, though social and health services are increasingly recognizing this field as an invaluable component of integrative treatments. Local artist Loretta Domaszewski is well versed in the incredible therapeutic benefits of art. She works here in Bozeman with the elderly and adults with disabilities, using art to facilitate communication, something woefully in need for these groups. Recently she started working with the Cancer Support Community (CSC), offering art workshops for the members, among them cancer patients, survivors and their families.

“It’s really important to offer a way for people to express themselves without having to talk cancer,” says Loretta.

The experience emancipates the participants, and freedom as a concept is frequently integrated into Loretta’s art for CSC. One of her first classes involved making ceramic birds, symbolizing a spiritual freedom through images of flight. In a recent workshop for women, she referenced work by the painter Georgia O’Keefe, an artist famous for her large depictions of flowers. The women were then encouraged to create their own flowers, and the results were vibrant.

Painting of Flowers from CSC class“I wanted to connect the flower imagery to the idea of blossoming,” Loretta explains. “I also focused on the colors of flowers and the transition of colors.”

For Loretta, the healing aspect of art is derived from a core belief in the importance of community. She has long been interested in public art and the human connections facilitated by it.

“I really love the idea of having art available for everybody,” says Loretta.

A trained artist, Loretta received BFAs from the Museum School of Fine Arts and Tufts University. And though she believes there is a place for the more formal definition of fine art, she wants to make the world of art accessible for all. As Loretta puts it: “I’ve always wanted to get the art out of the frame and off the wall.”

Loretta continued her education after college, earning a teaching certificate at Brandeis University. But it wasn’t until 1989 when she and her husband moved to Bozeman that Loretta’s concept of art as a stepping stone for community really firmed up.

For Loretta, art is about the process. This philosophy, perhaps, benefits those she works with the most. Before the opportunity to work with CSC arose, a good friend of Loretta’s, Marcy Ramsay, asked her to teach a few art classes at Hillcrest Assisted Living. Loretta accepted and immediately connected with the work and the people of Hillcrest.

CSC painting class“I’ve met elderly people who have never done art in their lives and think they can’t do it,” she says. “I get excited that I can help break down some of those barriers and try to show there is no judgment. It’s not about the final result, it’s about the whole process.”

Loretta’s friendship with Marcy has continued to open windows to similar opportunities. Loretta soon began working with Marcy’s son, an adult with special needs. That experience introduced her to REACH, a local non-profit helping adults with disabilities. Loretta and Marcy (a REACH board member) recognized the potential and initiated what has become a rapidly growing program, Very Special Artist (VSA). As with the elderly and those fighting cancer, Loretta has found that art provides a different way for REACH members to communicate and engender self-worth.

“I encourage everyone to have their own way of drawing,” Loretta says about teaching art. “I tell people to create in their own way.”

Loretta is cultivating the VSA program at REACH and continues to teach workshops at CSC. Although she still pursues her own art, the connection with others brings her the greatest inspiration.

“What I love most is watching people in the creative process,” says Loretta. “I tell people that the creative process is like a life cycle. You get excited and inspired and then hit a problem, which makes people frustrated. Instead of giving up, I tell them they just need to look for a solution, and maybe it will take some help from me or someone else. But, like life, you get through it and the real creativity lies within.”

Loretta makes it clear that she is not a certified art therapist. Her work is based more on her teaching background and an intuitive sense for interpersonal relationships. But her successes demonstrate the beneficial role of art in the therapeutic process, and that may supersede any official title. Art Therapy remains a small niche with pioneering influences coming from health services, education, hospice and social work. The applications are still emerging, with encouraging results recently noted in the treatment of war veterans suffering from the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Since the very beginning, art has been a universal language, and the meaning of art has transcended the individual artist for just as long. With the development of Art Therapy, however, the world is witnessing the truly priceless benefits of art for community. Today, artists and pioneers like Loretta are blazing a trail for new mediums for connectivity and healing.

“Sometimes the art is just a way for people to laugh and forget about their woes,” says Loretta.

Her words beckon the old cliché, “Laughter is the best medicine,” and it makes one wonder if the person that coined it was painting at the time. -TBM

Loretta Domaszewski with her own work

Shown above, Loretta continues to create her own art in her studio at Emerson Cultural Center. More of her work is available for viewing and purchase at www.lorettafineart.com. For additional information about the Very Special Artist program at REACH, contact Loretta at lorettafineart@me.com. And to learn more about the art programs available at the Cancer Support Community, contact Justin Short at justin@cancersupportmontana.org.

 
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