‘A Celebration of Healing’ shows resilience and recovery of breast cancer survivors

Many photos Sal Brownfield saw about survivors of breast cancer seemed so clinical.

He didn’t recognize “ordinary people like the lady next door, your mother or your sister.” They weren’t the people he knew who worried about getting the disease or had already been diagnosed.

So Brownfield, an Atlanta artist, decided to find a way to capture and celebrate the courage, recovery and beauty of the human spirit on canvas.

Brownfield’s work — a series of 18 out of 21 vividly colored oil and shellac paintings — will be on display Tuesday through Dec. 28 at the Hudgens Center for the Arts in Gwinnett County. The paintings, “A Celebration of Healing,” show women and men whose lives were impacted by breast cancer.

More than 232,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in U.S. women in 2013, according to the American Cancer Society.

“The idea was that ordinary people just rise to the occasion,” Brownfield said. “These are the ordinary people we all know who needed to sustain some joy in their lives.”

Brownfield and his longtime partner, Eve Hoffman, also collaborated on a companion book, “A Celebration of Healing,” that contains stories about the models featured in his paintings. There’s Sherry, the “Woman in a High-Back Chair,” who felt “betrayed by her right breast” after a diagnosis revealed cancer.

She didn’t have reconstruction and a stepdaughter lauded her decision, according to the book. “She was able to transform fear into something we could use to get through it,” the stepdaughter said. “She was amazing. Her body and chest are beautiful, full of strength, survival, of being who you are, not letting anyone else tell you who you should be.”

There’s Jean Frank, who now lives in Amelia Island, Fla., and frequently commutes to Atlanta for work.

Frank, a financial consultant and grandmother, posed with her husband, whose first wife also had breast cancer.

Frank was 40 years old when she was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer. “It was a real shock,” Frank said. “It wasn’t in my family. I exercised. I was always a healthy eater. I ate broccoli!”

She decided to participate in the project to show others that life can still be “celebratory and joyful,” said Frank, who is now 62. “It becomes real.”

One of the painting also includes Brownfield’s mother, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005 when she was 88 and died several years later of congestive heart failure.

The paintings, which were started in 2002, are available for sale, with a portion of the proceeds going to breast cancer organizations.

Hoffman, who is working on her second book of poetry, makes a connection between the power of art and healing. The paintings help remove some of the stigma people still face about cancer.

She said several of the women talked about how being part of the project helped them “complete” the healing process.

Said Hoffman, “They had a sense of being part of something that mattered.”

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