BRANFORD — If there were an artist’s version of “Physician, heal thyself,” Yvonne Gordon Moser is living it.
When Kelley, her husband of three years, was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer last year, after two years of blood irregularities and a separate brain surgery for a hematoma, that diagnosis was “like a tornado” that turned their world upside down, she says.
But, Gordon Moser, a trained art therapist who is the owner and director of the Branford Art Center, found herself in a unique spot: The training she’d used to help others not only helped the couple navigate the waters of Kelley’s stem cell transplant at Smilow Cancer Center in March, but also spawned a creative rebirth for her resulting in two ongoing art exhibits and a feeling of hope that the worst was over for the couple.
“Liberation 2018,” an exhibit of 20 new monotypes, runs through Oct. 10 at 300 George Street, a gallery in New Haven, while “Pre and Post Liberation,” a show of 31 new and older monotypes and mixed media, is on view through Oct. 15 at Evergreen Woods, 88 Notch Hill Road, North Branford.
Gordon Moser spent months doing everything possible to make Kelley’s transplant a success: sterilizing their household every day, making sure he had the right foods, monitoring his considerable daily regime of medications, sending the family’s beloved 10-year-old cat Lucy to her parents for five months, daily laundry, trash removal, and, the worst, flushing and maintaining the port that was attached to his chest to receive the meds after the procedure.
She calls it “living in a sterile bubble for 120 days,” though they never stopped living or hoping, even lightening the mood by doing a little dance some days after port flushing.
It will be two years before they know whether the transplant has worked. It’s a grueling process, which starts with bombarding the body with heavy chemotherapy for five days to basically bring the immune system down to base zero, a tabula rasa, in which to transplant the new stem cells.
“You pray that he makes it through that,” she says, noting that her go-to prayer target is “GUS, which stands for Great Universal Spirit, because I’m not really into conventional religion. March 27 was the day of the transplant. It’s considered Day Zero, and you start counting from there. Kind of like a birthday. …”
On July 25, the day the port was removed, she made a quick stop at the grocery en route home. Artist friend Liz Pagano, whose Erector Square studio she rents for her intaglio print work, texted her, asking when she could come in. Gordon Moser had commitments for two shows but hadn’t started the work.
“I didn’t try to make it happen,” she says, of her return to the studio after a yearlong absence. “It was kind of a funny thing, how it happened. … Liz said, ‘Tomorrow at 10 works.’ It worked for me. I never thought about cancelling the shows. … If it didn’t work out, that I couldn’t get into the studio, I would have cancelled the show, but the universe just opened up. I just figured it was meant to be. I just went and created these pieces.”
The result was an outpouring of “a lot of emotion” and a lot of work, of which she says in her gallery notes, “… these prints are the result of that work … frenetic, rich and colorful, yet they have a quality reminiscent of my attitude … I take nothing for granted. Every breath is a gift.”
Each of the works at 300 George, with titles that convey that journey — “In the Eye of the Tornado,” Horizon,” “Moving Forward,” “Pulse,” includes imprints of the journey: a surgical mask, sterile gloves, leaves, twine, burlap.
Gordon Moser, who received her BFA in printmaking from Connecticut College and her master’s in art therapy from Albertus Magnus, founded Branford Art Center and YMG Wellness LLC Gallery and Studio in 2015. The former was a CTNow2018 Best of galleries.
She used her art therapy training to create the works and a healing atmosphere in their Wallingford home for Kelley, a golf pro. They took trips in their minds visualizing pleasant past experiences, talked meditatively about where they wanted to be, and used positive stimulation from some favorite paintings.
“They say if you make it to 100 days after the transplant, that’s a good thing, but it was anticlimactic compared to when the tubes were removed from his chest,” says Gordon Moser, noting that it was Kelley who used the word “liberation,” that she uses for the show title.
“It was freedom. You feel like you’re heading in the right direction. A bit of the fear factor is removed. For so long, you just feel like you’re facing death. I wanted to just close up shop. I just wanted to be with him and help him heal. I didn’t want to be here, do the art. I felt pulled. When the time came that I was going to come back here, I felt like I was in a tornado.”
She literally was, as the Hamden-Wallingford tornado did strike around the same time. But several artist members of the center, which is located at 1229 Main St., volunteered to keep things going, in what Gordon Moser calls “a real community effort…”
Twenty percent of the proceeds of the paintings, will go to the Smilow Cancer Center for stem cell transplant research. The rest will go “to rebuilding us.”
Editor’s note: Yvonne Gordon Moser will be participating in Artspace's 2018 City-Wide Open Studios during the Alternative Space Weekend of Oct. 26-28 at the Yale East Campus. Her work will be included in the group show themed “Well Being,” where her “Liberation” monotypes will be showing.
Donna Doherty is the former Arts Editor for the New Haven Register.