Seton Hill exhibit delves into the healing power of art
Since losing her husband, Brian Venneman, to cancer in 2014, Jen Venneman of Latrobe has found a way through the darkness by expressions in art.
Her ongoing journey began with an art therapy program offered through Excela Health Home Care & Hospice and Seton Hill University, working with interns in a graduate art therapy program directed by Dana Elmendorf.
Her sessions with bereavement counselor Maureen Ceidro ultimately led the two women to a collaborative art exhibit, “Shadows Mirrors Light,” at Seton Hill Arts Center’s Harlan Gallery.
“Reflected,” by Maureen Elizabeth, and “Journey To Light,” by Jen Vienne, will open with a 6 to 9 p.m. July 19 reception highlighting Venneman’s 3-D images and Ceidro’s photographs.
The reception, and additional open gallery dates of 4 to 8 p.m. Aug. 2 and Aug. 9, is free to the public.
Venneman, who works as events and marketing coordinator for the Bishop Connare Center, believes art can help one heal from the loss of a partner, a pet, addiction recovery and other painful journeys.
“It’s all about taking the first step into darkness,” she says.
Ceidro, who has shown photography in previous exhibits, and Venneman met when she photographed her and her husband’s hands.
“We offer that to all our hospice patients,” she says.
Sometimes it’s a boisterous, joyful moment, when a large family and even pets pile hands and paws together for a photograph.
Sometimes it’s a moment of companionable silence between longtime partners.
Ceidro recalls the inspiration for the project, a married couple who held hands during one of her visits.
The wife was in her final days, the couple were observing their anniversary, and Ceidro offered to take a picture.
Hoping they would ignore her presence, she suggested they talk with each other.
“He told her, ‘I would marry you all over again,’” Ceidro says.
She matted and framed the photo for the woman’s husband.
“He was so happy. I decided we needed to (0ffer) this,” she adds.
In recent years, Seton Hill University art therapy interns began working with patients and families through the hospice program.
“Over the years it’s become a wonderful addition to our bereavement program,” Ceidro says.
She has seen the benefits of patients who begin reminiscing or expressing their thoughts or fears through art. Family members, including children, sometimes work through their grief the same way.
While working with Venneman after her husband died, Ceidro recognized, she says, her “artistic spirit,” and guided her toward the art therapy program.
“She started producing meaningful pieces,” Ceidro says.
“It really helped her express her feelings, her struggles, her journey,” she says.
“I had a photography exhibit last year at Latrobe Art Center. She made a mask she agreed to show,” she adds.
As she began thinking about a second show, Ceidro considered her role as “witness” to Venneman’s healing process, and approached her about preparing a show together.
In Ceidro’s series of haunting, yet lovely, black and white staged images,Venneman wears a wedding dress and peers into water and visits a cemetery, deep in self-reflection.
Venneman says she has always found the peace of graveyards and running water comforting.
The cemetery portraits are not meant to be mournful, Venneman says. Rather, the message is more that death does not mean loved ones part.
“You are always together. They are just on a different plane,” Venneman says.
Tapping her artistic spirit
“I always loved art. I have a degree in interior design,” Venneman says.
She and her husband, who were living in California, completed a cross-country trip, his final wish, as they moved to her home community of Latrobe.
“The only way I could figure anything out was through art. I discovered that was my true talent,” she says. The mask she created through the art therapy program is a central piece in the upcoming show.
Photos Ceidro shot on Loyalhanna Creek near Ligonier depict Venneman’s perception of water asconduit, a connection between life and death, she says.
She assumes several characters in the photos, from an Ice Queen to Alice Through the Looking Glass.
“We planned some shots and it turned out amazing. She (Ceidro) captured the journey and it complements the art I’ve done,” Venneman says.
Her own pieces include a dragon egg and dragon egg pod, a plaster cast and metallic paint art work that is her expression of a “safe space.”
“I never used plaster cast before. My medium is turning out to be collage, decoupage, (techniques) I learned in art therapy,” she says.
Another piece, a heart, called “Journey to the Light,” refers to her husband, and her bringing him to peace and seeing him through his last days and her perceptions and feelings about that effort.
“I’m putting my emotions on display in hope of helping people get through — hope exists, you are not alone. I want to encourage people to begin to face whatever they are facing and (give) some concept of how to get through,” she says.
(Venneman) “had these concepts of her journey she wanted to symbolically represent through my photography. … I can see the change, the growth, the struggle. I am a witness to these things that unfold. The camera is a mirror for what’s unfolding in front of you,” Ceidro says.
“I don’t know that we honor (creating) enough. Creating, even in the depths of sadness, can still uplift you,” she says.
Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary at 724-836-5401, [email protected] or via Twitter @MaryPickels.