MS victims (and others!) find
refuge in Art Their intense canvases reveal emotions behind ongoing nerve
disease. Allentown, PA's Broken
Art Movement Join
our MS Walk Team & make a pledge!
Article by Ron Devlin Of The Morning Call
Ed Thierer could paint
something safe, like a pastoral landscape or a quaint farmhouse along
a country road in New Tripoli.
Instead, the 37-year-old Northampton man takes on a much more challenging
artistic task — to depict the often conflicting emotions that stem from
his ongoing battle with multiple sclerosis.
Across a dark, swirling background, Thierer emblazons flaming yellow balls
with cometlike tails. The painting exudes a sense of journey into the
unknown, perhaps indicative of the artist's own encounter with the progressive
''There,'' says Thierer, a tall man with a ponytail dangling from beneath
an Indy 500 baseball cap, ''everything in my head is now on canvas.''
Thierer's chance at self-expression comes during an innovative art class
at Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital in Allentown.
Brett Weber, an Allentown artist with MS, teaches the class as an antidote
to the depression that accompanies the debilitating disease.
MS attacks the myelin sheath, or lining, that covers nerves in the brain.
The damage interrupts brain signals to the body parts, causing difficulty
in walking, uncontrollable shaking of the hands and diminished eyesight.
The disease is progressive, but its onslaught can be slowed with immune
suppressants. There is no cure.
Jerry Werner, who coordinates the art therapy program, says MS often strikes
in the prime of life. Most of Weber's students are in their 30s and 40s
and were forced to give up professions such as teaching and dentistry.
''MS is very scary when you're young,'' 36-year-old Weber tells the class.
''You go through a period of adjustment; I did.''
Weber begins the course with an hourlong slide show that could be entitled
''Art History 101.'' He shows great art, ranging from primitive paintings
on the walls of pyramids to Pablo Picasso's modernism.
Mixed in with images of the Mona Lisa and Georgia O'Keeffe's flowers are
the powerful stories of great artists who overcame physical and emotional
Michelangelo fought depression while painting the Sistine Chapel. Claude
Monet's failing eyesight may have contributed to his impressionism. Vincent
Van Gogh's long battle with mental illness shaped artistic icons such
as ''Starry Night.''
Weber, who uses a wheelchair, expects no Monets or Cezannes from the class.
He tells them to just relax and be themselves.
''Whatever you create over the next few weeks is you,'' he tells the dozen
people who meet Tuesday and Thursday mornings. ''Don't be concerned about
being perfect for someone else; do it for yourself.''
Gary Ofrichter of Easton had been a dentist for 20 years when he was diagnosed
about 10 years ago. He last practiced in 1995.
The 53-year-old Ofrichter manages to cover his canvas with a rainbow of
''I was going to paint the Mona Lisa,'' he jokes. ''But why show off?''
Tom Loper's right hand shakes so much he has difficulty putting brush
to canvas. Steadying it with his left hand, Loper manages to spread an
amalgam of dark colors across a canvas.
''That's the inside of my brain,'' says Loper, 41, a former factory worker