Artist Shara Gutsche, left, and her caregiver Christine Graham share a laugh during Wednesday’s open house at City Hall.

Artist Shara Gutsche, left, and her caregiver Christine Graham share a laugh during Wednesday’s open house at City Hall.

Brain-injured artist tells her story in pictures

Painting with Art Works! allows Shara Gutsche to express herself when words fail her

Shara Gutsche was 13 years old when she was run down in a crosswalk by a drunk driver, during a school trip to Bellingham.

The accident, in which she suffered a brain injury, left her partially blind and largely paralyzed along her right side.

Twenty-two years later, Gutsche’s right leg is splinted to help her walk, while her right arm hangs limp at her side. She sometimes finds herself struggling for words and has difficulty planning ahead.

But none of this has managed to erase the wide grin that seems to have found a permanent home on Gutsche’s face.

Nor has it stopped the 35-year-old Port Coquitlam woman from  picking up a brush and expressing — in paint — the thoughts and feelings she sometimes has trouble putting into words.

Last September, Gutsche joined Langley artist Lalita Hamill’s brain-injured artists group — Art Works! —  which is displaying its members’ work alongside pieces by a Langley art critique group.

On Wednesday evening, the artists were celebrated during a reception inside Langley City Hall, where the pieces are hanging .

Through the Fraser Valley Brain Injury Association’s program, which meets once a week to paint under Hamill’s guidance, Gutsche has made new friends and discovered a love of “bright colours and happy feelings” set to canvas.

“I can express more through my art than with words,” says the fledgling artist, who has her own website on which she sells greeting cards featuring her original paintings.

She most often works in watercolours, but the piece on display in the foyer at City Hall — Hosta in the House — is an acrylic, painted in vibrant greens and yellows, of a plant growing outside her bedroom window.

Although she lives north of the Fraser, Gutsche joined the Fraser Valley Brain Injury Association’s Langley art group because  her respite caregiver Christine Graham lives here.

The two women share a deep affection, a long history and plenty of laughs. And though they’ve only been paired formally for the past two years, Graham has known Gutsche her whole life. In fact, she was in Bellingham on that fateful day in 1990, and serves as the younger woman’s memory of the accident that put Gutsche in the hospital, first in the U.S., then in Vancouver, for a many weeks.

It was Graham who heard about the ArtWorks! program and suggested she give it a try.

Her first reaction, Gutsche said, is that she wouldn’t be able to do it.

But that initial doubt soon disappeared and Gutsche added artist to a resume that includes music, theatrical improv, sailing, skiing and horseback riding.

But there are still one or two things on her to-do list.

“I haven’t done skating yet,” she said. “Nor driving.”

Hamill leads both the FVBIA ArtWorks! group and a collection of artists of all skill levels who meet monthly for critiques. Their work is also currently on display inside City Hall.

She said the reception was a perfect opportunity to publicize the brain injury group, which Opus Langley has selected as its charity of choice.

A total of $2,300 which has been raised on behalf of the group will be matched by Opus, with the money going toward the purchase of supplies.

On Wednesday evening, the artists and their guests were greeted by Don Shilton, general manager of the Langley Arts Council, and by City of Langley mayor Peter Fassbender, who told the group that their artwork, displayed throughout the concourse,”adds to the soul of our facility.”

“Thank you for decorating our home and sharing your talent with us,” he said.

To read Shara Gutsche’s story and view her work, go to www3.telus.net/shara

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