TRAVERSE CITY — Kory Stevens loved to draw and paint before the accident that changed his life. Now he's using art to help in his recovery.
"If you can't express what you feel (in words) you can do it through art," said Stevens, of Thompsonville, one of scores of northern Michigan residents with works in the Northern Lakes Community Mental Health exhibit, "Art of Recovery: The Human Journey."
The show opened Nov. 7 in the Outre Lounge at InsideOut Gallery and continues through the month. It features about 100 works in a variety of genres and styles, from "Plantation Road," a painting of an azalea-and oak-lined drive by an anonymous mental health social worker who suffers from depression, to "My Revival," a collage of words, sentences, phrases and lyrics by a woman who struggled with anorexia and drugs.
Together the works tell the story of recovery, from accident and alcoholism to cancer and chronic pain.
"To me the variety of the work that's shown parallels the variety of people we find in our community," said Deb Freed of Freed Communications, who organizes the annual show with Northern Lakes CMH community and public relations specialist Cynthia Petersen to raise awareness of mental health. "The point of the show is to break down walls and connect with each other and support each other. We all share struggles at some point in our lives."
Stevens, 29, broke his neck in three places in a 2011 car accident on black ice and is still recovering. A month after the accident, he and his family lost everything in a house fire.
He has two pieces in the show: an acrylic painting that depicts the fire and "Reflection," a simple wood-framed mirror with the handwritten affirmation, "The First Piece of Recovery Starts Right Here!!" He said the affirmation has been instrumental in his recovery.
"If you don't have the will or determination to reach your goals, then you won't reach them," said Stevens, who undergoes neurological and equine rehabilitation therapy and personal training nine times a week. "When I was in the ICU room, the surgeon said in the 50 years he has been doing this (he learned) that if I hadn't wiggled my toes in the first 48 hours I wouldn't be able to walk again. Now I'm walking on crutches and with a walker."
James Ash helped hang the show, which includes two of his paintings and a mixed-media sculpture. Each bears the tag: Art Saves Lives.
"The reason I put that is because I am a recovered drug addict," said Ash, 62, a retired licensed builder and residential designer who became a single father and drug user while working and studying fine arts at Eastern Michigan University. "It's great to have something to do that's so creative and that I can make social statements about. Art gives you an outlet."
The Clearwater Township man's larger-than-life sculpture, "Border-Run," depicts a male-female figure jumping across an irrigation ditch during a dash for the border with a "freedom angel" on its back. The sculpture was created from red oak, limbs from a neighbor's cherry trees damaged in the March storm, and an old irrigation pump, among other materials.
About a third of the show's works came out of expressive art classes held every other week at Northern Lakes CMH, said art teacher and licensed professional counselor Tom McClellan.
"I've been doing it since 2004 and it's been very successful. It's one of the most cost-effective programs they offer," said McClellan, who works on contract with the agency. "We do what I call process painting. The emphasis is on the process rather than the content or the product."
He said the classes are open to the public, in part to help break down the stigma of mental illness.
"We've had members of the community come and enjoy it thoroughly and nobody's caught a mental illness," said McClellan, who paints along with his students and has some of his own works in the show. "The way it helps mental health and recovering clients is they may discover ways they can explore talent they didn't know they had. And it's a two-hour respite from what they're dealing with: depression or anxiety. It's sort of like a recess — two hours of fun and relaxation."
The show is free during Gallery hours. For more information, visit inside outarttc.com or northern lakescmh.org.