Paintings with Heart
In LIFELINE, the character Libby finds peace and inner strength through art. Today I’m fortunate to sit down with my dear friend and PA painter, Bronwen Henry, to hear about her healing journey of self-discovery through painting.
Be sure to check out Bronwen’s paintings on her website, and share your own stories of hope and recovery on Twitter at #whatsyourlifeline.
A: Bronwen, tell us a little about the experience that led you to start painting.
B: I was in the midst of parenting two young children, working a part-time job, and trying to be an attentive wife and daughter when I had my wake-up call. In 2013, I was diagnosed with Thyroid Cancer. During the treatments, I needed a lifeline to manage all the anxiety and stress of that experience. That is when I stepped into painting. I had painted previously in my life, but never with any regularity and never on a large scale. I painted my first large painting while I was in isolation for Radioactive Iodine treatment for Thyroid Cancer. It was such a salve and comfort to me during that time. When I was feeling better, I decided I didn’t have to be sick to paint. Now I paint nearly every day.
A: Has painting continued to be a lifeline for you?
B: In every way. Painting has kept me alive. Painting is the place where I take my fear, my anxiety, my hope, my doubt. It helps me to stay grounded and in my life. It helps me to be gentle. It is a space where I can get quiet enough to hear the Divine leading. It is a space where I'm 'okay,' where I'm 'enough,' where nothing is lacking.
Here is a recent example: In January 2017, my husband's brother, Cade, died in an accident. Like so many others, I adored Cade. I have been feeling anxious as the anniversary of his passing approaches. I am acutely aware of the heartache of my husband and his family. During this time of anticipation, I interrupted my regular “plans” to work on commissions, and I began working on a series of mother and baby elephants. I had no particular reason to create this series, but I have learned to follow my instincts and impulses when I am strongly pulled in a direction. Working on these paintings, while anticipating the anniversary of Cade’s death, has been such a comfort for me as I try to be gentle with my heartache and the heartache of others left behind. While painting, I found myself considering the different ways the mother elephant is protecting and caring for her child. I think of how the Divine is loving and protecting each of us. I think of how life is so fragile. I stretch and lean into faith and into a space where the Divine keeps us safe even when the alternative appears to be true. I pray that Cade is experiencing this tender care.
A: It sounds like prayer is an important part of your artistic process. Tell me more about that.
B: Paintings were such a lifeline for me that I realized right away that when I create paintings for others, I want to preserve that lifeline energy. Just as I spent time in prayer when I was in isolation, I now spend time in prayer for others as I create paintings for them. As I create custom pieces for collectors, I hold them in my prayers and focus on expanding the care and compassion in my own heart, holding space for that in their life. I also wanted my work to give back in a practical way. I now donate 10% of every original painting that I sell to a non-profit that is answering prayers in very concrete ways.
A: I love the idea of “preserving that lifeline energy” as a contribution to the recipients of your paintings. In what ways do you think your work has been a lifeline to others?
B: I have been amazed to see how my paintings have been a true salve/comfort to others. Just last week, a group of friends got together and gave one of my paintings to someone recovering from surgery. She told me "she learned in a new way how beauty could be a comfort." It astounds me that stepping into this joy in my own life has brought joy and comfort to others as well.
I also think that by living this path, by showing up to this creative call despite my lack of qualifications, I am showing a way for others to do that in their own lives. I am sharing a message that you don't have to be excellent at something to do it. I'm showing that self-care and stepping into your joy can help others. I'm having a blast with a new workshop I recently launched called "Open Heart Studio" in which I help participants move past their fears/barriers around creativity and step into the meditative, restorative, space of painting.
A: You are truly an inspiration, Bronwen. I was lucky enough to attend some of your early art shows, and your courage to share your story was one of my primary inspirations behind pursuing publication of LIFELINE.
B: Wow. That is humbling for me to hear, thank you. It is amazing to think of how we have encouraged each other on our own paths. I hope for you every success with LIFELINE. I know it will be a tremendous inspiration to people of all ages.
A: Thank you so much for sitting down with me today. Where can we see more of your work?
B: You can check out my new works and reflections on paintings at facebook.com/bronwenmayerhenry or my website www.bronwenmayerhenry.com.