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“My life has been enhanced and made richer by my disability.”

June 10, 2013

The title of this blog post is an abbreviated quote from an article written by Katherine Sherwood, a disabled artist.

As my most recent blog post shows, I have become quite interested in disabled artists. As those familiar with this blog know, I want to change how occupational therapy, specifically, and our communities, generally, include people with differences or impairments.

In September 2012, I began painting with acrylic paints on canvas. I had never done that before. I will write about how painting positively affects my life in future posts. Today I want to share quotes from Sherwood who was an artist before she had a stroke at the age of 44. She has continued to be an artist – but in new ways – since the stroke.

I did not learn about Katherine Sherwood through occupational therapy but she has something to say about OT. Sherwood was a right handed painter before her stroke. In an article (for which I will provide a link below) she says “It turns out that my left hand was, in my case, the better painting hand, and that painting in my studio was the most effective occupational therapy there could have been for me.” (p.1). This is a reminder of how important it is to support people to participate in the activities that they love.

“In my practice as an artist, my stroke is a challenge and an opportunity rather than a loss.” (p. 1) says Sherwood. She compensated for the fact that her left hand was not as skilled as her right hand had been before the stroke by working on much larger canvases. She used larger brushes and was freed from what she called “meticulous detail” (p. 1). Due to the weight of the canvases, she began to paint with them positioned flat rather than leaning up on an easel.

The stroke also gave Sherwood a gift. The part of her brain that intellectualized her art was damaged. She is now able to paint more freely without the constriction caused by over-thinking.

I encourage you to ‘go to’ Sherwood’s article “How a cerebral hemorrhage altered my art” to see photographs of some of her art.

I find her ideas very exciting. I understand that many people cannot return to their previous activities due to the effects of a stroke. However, it is nice to hear that disability can sometimes enhance life. I will let Sherwood have the final word – “I firmly know my life has been considerably enhanced and made richer after acquiring my disability.” (p. 5).

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