Levi Detwiler is after the perfect shade of pale turquoise. He swirls together the ingredients — a “calming” blue, some white, a dollop of green — on a paper plate, looking for a color to accent his canvas, a black tree fanning over an ocean-like swirl. A few tables away, Dolores Aderman is too engrossed in her painting — a still life of flowers by a windowpane — to look up. She’s trying to finish the painting on a tight schedule, and there’s still a vase and speckled sky to draw.
The two artists are deep in preparation for Western Montana Mental Health Center’s third annual “Stomp the Stigma” Art Show, held this Friday, May 18, from 4-8 p.m. The show, held in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, invites the community to combat negative stereotypes of mental illness through vibrant, creative work.
The show grew out of the health center’s art therapy program, led by local artist Sharon Cowan. The program allows adults who participate in the center’s day treatment program to build confidence through creative expression. As more and more clients turned inspiration into visual art, the center developed a gallery of in-house work. For three years running, the art show “really opens up (the gallery) to the community,” said Ron Fournier, manager of the health center’s adult day treatment program and one of the organizers of the event. He’s been busy arranging frames and hanging paintings for an impressive haul of artwork. With everyone who frequents the day treatment program asked to contribute, there’s 65 pieces on display this year. Most are for sale, with all proceeds going toward the artist and the center’s art program.
One of these is a landscape by Jennifer Marie, who has been attending art classes at the center for over a year. Marie said she was motivated by paintings that are “kind of demure, yet elegant and simple,” and drew inspiration from pictures provided by Cowan.
Walking past the walls now prepped for the show, she admires the quality of the paintings. “I think that they have really great talent here, and I hope that they sell,” she said.
Cowan, who has been teaching four art classes a week at the center for five years, has endeavored to let this talent bloom. “I just felt like they can do more if you show them how,” she said of her students. Part of the show’s purpose is to offer the public an opportunity to celebrate and purchase a cultivation of talent that would otherwise be left untapped. “I just think their art is just as valid as anybody else’s,” she said.
Aderman credits Cowan with helping her turn an interest in painting into actual ability. A longtime fan of Picasso, Aderman is particularly proud of her rendering of the maestro’s theme of split perspectives — her multicolored, skewed face of a girl will be on sale at the show.
Aderman credits the art classes with providing solace. “My head spins all the time, so if I come in here and I’m starting to do this, it calms me. I don’t know what we’d do without the art program, I really don’t.”
Fred Waters has been attending the day treatment center for over 30 years. He agrees that the lessons of painting extend further than the canvas. “From painting, I’ve learned to relax and get organized but at the same time, pace myself,” he said. “I can get wired, but with painting I can take the time to enjoy it more.”
The “Stomp the Stigma” theme hits particularly close to home for Waters, who said he’s found negative or uninformed attitudes against mental illness to be “a serious challenge” in his life. For the show, he said he’s most looking forward to “the positive publicity. It gives the public a positive side, a positive picture. We’re the good guys.”
The positivity flows through the art room, where Cowan advises Detwiler on sponging the turquoise around his tree. Painting, Detwiler said, allows you a chance to “freely expresses yourself. I feel happier when I’m doing it.”
The Stomp the Stigma Art Show will be held Friday, May 18, from 4-8 p.m. at the Western Montana Mental Health Center, located at 410 Windward Way in Kalispell. There will be a silent auction, and desserts and refreshments will be available. For more information, visit www.wmmhc.org or call (406) 257-1336.
Reporter Adrian Horton can be reached at 758-4439 or at email@example.com