July 24, 2010

I am a self-taught assemblage artist (B.A. in art history), living in Jamaica Plain Massachusetts with my husband and 9-year-old daughter. In 2001, I was 37 years old and experiencing what would be my first symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis. My body below my ribs was partially numb with a pins-and-needles sensation throughout. Eventually, my hands had the same symptoms. I was incredibly tired, and had great difficulty doing such simple things as walking, putting on socks and holding a pen. More distressingly because of my lack of balance, I could not safely hold and carry my daughter. In 2002, I had a relapse, and was officially diagnosed with MS.

I have always dabbled in the arts, but it was during this period that I started to take my art more seriously. My assemblages tell stories based upon such items as vintage photographs, discarded toys, postcards, and other paper ephemera. I believe that these found objects can bring about memories of one’s past and family history. Though my artwork is personal, it is my hope that by using these materials, my assemblages are interesting and accessible to the viewer.

A 1950′s black and white photo inspired my first assemblage. It is a photo of my Aunt Ruth (my mother’s sister). She is a beautiful young woman sitting in her backyard. On the back of the photo, she simply wrote, “ain’t I healthy looking;” a sentence that was loaded with sadness and fear. At that time my Aunt was experiencing her first symptoms MS. Several years before this photo was taken, her father was diagnosed with the same disease. And in the 1960′s her sister Rosemary also was diagnosed with MS.

I found myself drawn to this photo of my Aunt, (A woman who died the year I was born, and at the same age of my diagnosis.) and her words haunted me. Yet this photo also changed the way I looked at art and at myself. I needed a way to explore my new connection with my clash royale Aunt, and my own feelings towards MS.

And so my first assemblage, Ruth (ain’t I healthy looking), was made from a wooden wine box and an assortment of found objects. (Vintage doll legs, fake butterflies, magnifying lenses, and photos of my Aunt, and a photo of me as a child) There were times, making this assemblage, that I felt anger, frustration, and sadness; emotions that I usually would have denied. But in the end, I felt as if I was able to somehow “know” my Aunt, and have an appreciation of those words “ain’t I healthy looking”. I also felt I had a better understanding of my diagnosis and myself. I felt calm and centered. (Within nine months my original symptoms all but disappeared, and I haven’t had any new significant symptoms since 2002.)

What I wasn’t expecting was the need to make more assemblages! Some 6 years later I have made over 50 assemblages, and have shown and sold my artwork throughout the Boston area. Yes, MS is part of my life. There are days that I need to pace myself so I don’t get overtired. And often at the end of a day, my legs feel like lead. But more importantly each day provides an opportunity to create art, which helps me feel energized and relaxed. At first, a way cope with my MS diagnosis, my artwork now is an integral part of my life that I’m extremely thankful for.

By Amy Hitchcock

The Foundation for Art & Healing