My journey through life took an unexpected turn on April 28, 2006 when I was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. After taking a leave from interior design while going through treatment I started taking art classes again. I had discovered Art & Creativity for Healing prior to being diagnosed, but it played a major part in my family’s emotional healing during my cancer battle. I went on to complete my Art4Healing® Certificate from Chapman University. I learned about glass fusing. I took collage classes. Cancer changed many things about my life and how I wanted to use my time on this earth. Every day I try to remember my lessons learned from cancer and I am grateful for each healthy day that I can speak to people with my art.
The Early Years
I am the youngest of 5 children born and raised in Western New York State to a rural mail carrier and an elementary school teacher. The “arts” were a part of my life since I was a little girl. I started dancing at age 3 and played the flute for many years. My Mother wanted to be an art teacher, but art supplies were too expensive for her to go to art school so she chose elementary education. She was a very creative person and was living her dream through the creative endeavors of her children.
I attended elementary school in the late 60’s. A new art teacher was hired who was just out of college, she wore clogs and wild, wacky, colorful clothes. This young, enthusiastic art teacher exposed me, a young, impressionable girl to various forms of art and her inner creativity. Many of the projects that we created are still etched in my memory. A watercolor painting of bugs created with no color palette limitation. A tempera paint and found objects collage. My collage was red, orange and yellow with steel wool and many textures on cardboard. I remember keeping that collage for a very long time. Our teacher introduced us to clay – coil pots and pots thrown on the wheel. The surprise patterns of the finished glazes always intrigued me. She taught us to weave on small looms. I am so thankful to have had her as my teacher in those formidable years.
At the young age of 12, I knew that I wanted to be an interior designer. I knew that I wanted to attend a design school in New York City that started with a P – either Pratt Institute or Parson School of Design. Reading the school’s brochures was my nightly regimen, studying every course offering over and over. As a freshman in high school I had to personally meet with the art teacher and beg her to be added into her class. She was very tough to convince that I was really interested in art and not an easy grade. But I promised that she would not be sorry if she gave me the chance to prove myself. It worked and she let me matriculate into Studio in Art. I loved every minute of that class and I remember many of the projects. My Studio in Art teacher became the third art mentor in my life. Over the course of my high school years I enrolled in almost all of the art classes that my school offered. I joined the “Art Club” and was voted “Most Artistic” by my class peers in my senior year.
My dream had come true when I received an acceptance letter from Parsons School of Design (now named Parsons the New School for Design). I attended my dream school and loved almost every minute. The program was difficult and the criticism hard. It was such a great experience to attend school in Manhattan. My roommate Heather and I became best friends and we supported each other through the rigorous program. The first and second year of the program all students sampled projects from product design, interior design and architecture. The last year we specialized in own chosen discipline, mine being interior design.
After six years of infertility, we were overjoyed to adopt our daughter. Over the next few years I was busy raising our daughter
while I continuing to work part-time. I loved doing art projects and crafts with my young daughter and volunteering in preschool and elementary school. I truly love being around children and I especially love to watch them create. When my daughter started elementary school I had some time to take fine art classes again. Although Interior Designer is a creative occupation, I did not make the time to paint or create fine art for pure enjoyment, which I truly missed. I enjoyed painting again for two years but with the addition of our son in 2000 fine art was pushed into the background as other responsibilities again became more important.
Both my husband and I had traveled across the United States with our respective families when we were children. California had left an indelible impression in our minds. We disliked the snow and cold of the North East and longed for a different climate. 2003 would mark a major change in our lives, a move to Southern California. We needed a fresh start after the demise of my husband’s business. It was a very difficult transition. After settling everyone in to their new life, I returned to part-time work as an interior designer and became a Certified Interior Designer in California. Less than 3 years after our move: CANCER. Although I was the one diagnosed, the disease affects the whole family. As I mentioned earlier, the whole family used art to help us process our emotions during this difficult time in our lives.
As many people can attest, cancer forces you to make changes in your life whether you want to or not! Cancer helped me to sort out what was important to me.
Cancer taught me to:
• Stop and smell the flowers
• Don’t worry about everything – just the important things
• Make memories
• Attain balance in work and in life
Major Life Change
I also learned that even though a couple can go through the same experience, we all process it differently and have different priorities. In May of 2011, I filed for divorce from my high school sweetheart after 28 years of marriage. In August of 2011, I returned to full-time employment in the field of Commercial Property Management and I have added a California Real Estate Salesperson license to my resume.
I believe art in education is vital. I am currently the Newport Mesa School District Coordinator for the California Alliance for Arts Education. My role is to keep those interested in arts, education and creativity informed and to share the good news about the arts in our District.
I enjoy donating my time and talent to various non-profit groups. Over the years I have been active with Art & Creativity for Healing, Kids Konnected, OC Komen, and the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity.
Although creating art is not my “day” job, I cannot separate my creativity and my way of looking at the world from my life.
Life is Art and Art is my Life…
Mary Beth currently resides in Newport Beach, California with her two children and of course a dog and cat.