Strength in Her Artwork

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Thankful for every day she’s able to get out of bed and put two feet on the floor, Colleen Bess is a survivor. In 2003 Bess was diagnosed with cancer and was told with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma only 56 percent of people lived five years. She’s on her eighth. When she was diagnosed, Bess was hit hard with the stress of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. During this time, she took solace in an artist who’s now her best friend, Judy Mendel. Bess kept herself busy after chemo treatments painting pottery at Mendel’s studio. Her frequent trips there evolved into her own love of creating mosaics. “It was like an instant fit for me,” Bess said. “I’m constantly thinking about what I’m going to create.” Now Bess creates numerous types of art mosaics including picture frames, mirrors and garden pots. An especially unique art piece she makes is mosaic frogs. Each frog is given a name after its completion, and no two frogs she makes are alike. She sells her artwork out of Spirit Dreams in Grand Rapids and Haze Art Gallery in Lansing’s Old Town where she also serves as the assistant director. She will be participating in the First Sunday Gallery Walk on Sept. 4, as well. “Mosaics are something that requires you to focus,” she said. “That’s the thing I enjoy most about them — I can focus specifically on what I’m working on.” This focus is what drew her to mosaics in the first place to take her mind off the chemo and radiation treatments she was going through. Surviving cancer not only gave Bess a new lease on life, but gave her the passion for art that will stay with her for the rest of her life. “When you end up with cancer, you think, ‘How did this happen?’ I thought I was doing everything right,” she said. “Cancer — it totally changes you, and you become a different person.” As she did in taking her experience of chemo and turning it into something worthwhile, Bess takes old recycled pieces of other art and uses them for her mosaics. She shops around in thrift stores and breaks or cuts whatever she buys to turn it into something brand new. “I like that you can take something like a plate with a chip in it and make something really awesome out of it, to see it come to life,” she said.
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Tags: art, cancer, Haze Art Gallery, mosaics