Two people become artists, almost by accident. And they’re mother and son.
It’s a story with many twists and turns, both tragic and serendipitous, and part of it becomes public this Friday with an art exhibition opening at the Wyly Community Art Center in Basalt.
There, artist Winifred Carol Wyman’s works will be on display for the first time ever. At 82, her health is failing and she can barely speak. But, over the past three years she has been a prolific painter, creating more than 300 pieces since her departure from a nursing home in Illinois where she was abused, says her son John Howard Wyman. He chronicles this story in his book, “Against Her Will.”
“Her work is very fresh, very primal, wildly colorful and very textual,” says Dasa Bausova, programs director for the Wyly. “It’s absolutely fearless and uninhibited. There are almost 30 pieces hung, and they’re really amazing with how they play off of each other.”
Winifred Carol Wyman is a self-taught artist. Her son, John, brought her to Colorado after she spent many years in a nursing home against her will; in it she was assaulted and abused. Earlier on in her life, she was a ceramicist, but John Howard Wyman offered the medium of painting to her as a release.
“She didn’t do if for profit, and she didn’t do it for fame,” he says. “She did it for herself.”
Many of her works are painted in 360-degree style, meaning the canvas lies flat on the table and she turns it to paint. Others were done on an easel.
Now, John is his mother’s primary caregiver. He’s a hairdresser and is able to take care of her from his home studio while he sees clients.
“I wasn’t a writer,” he says. “But I wrote this book to cause change.”
This change, he says, need to happen in the health care, nursing and court systems around the country. In his book, he details his battles with his family and multiple institutions to retrieve his mother from a home where she was being treated for dementia, Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia and alcoholism. He says these diagnoses were inaccurate and perpetuated by his estranged father and a failed system.
He’s now working on a second book, to be titled “Confessions of a Caregiver.” Like many artistic processes, he said the story took on a life of its own once it left his hands, and has triggered dialogue with people from around the country.
The unexpected reception he’s received for his book is similar to the unanticipated demand for his mother’s work. Though he knew his mother was doing something important for herself, he didn’t know it might affect other people until he showed it to Bausova.
“I was captivated by the story, and her work,” she says. “And now our gallery is ablaze with her paintings which are full of energy, color and optimism.”
Winifred knows her paintings will be in a show, says John, but is barely cognizant of what that means. She is currently under the care of valley Hospice — which he praises tremendously. She plans to make the opening Friday. Bausova worked solely with John to hang the show.
Though she cannot talk, her works speaks for her, say both Bausova and John.
“There is a lot of pain reflected in it,” she says, “but also a lot of optimism.”