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Pratt's healing art shared in exhibits

MOORHEAD - Local artist and Stage IV cancer survivor Claudia Pratt believes healing comes most assuredly through bringing stories of adversity to light, and then having a conversation about them.

Claudia Pratt models "Hat for a Day and a Season"
Claudia Pratt models "Hat for a Day and a Season," by Mary K. Larson, Seattle, Wash., silk and beads, 2007, sheARTS Collection. Meg Luther Lindholm / Special to The Forum

MOORHEAD - Local artist and Stage IV cancer survivor Claudia Pratt believes healing comes most assuredly through bringing stories of adversity to light, and then having a conversation about them.

To help foster that ongoing dialogue, two of her exhibits are currently on display through March 26 at the Historical Cultural Society of Clay County at the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead.

The idea to merge art and words for healing purposes came to Pratt as her cancer moved through various stages. The more open she was about her experiences, the more others opened up about their own challenges.

Shortly after her 2006 diagnosis, Pratt had her head - bald from chemotherapy treatments - painted in a multitude of colors and shapes, along with words like heal, love and faith.

"When I had my head painted, a woman came up to me and wanted to talk about her own breast issues," Pratt said. "Her doctors weren't listening to her and it became a dialogue, a way for her to share her frustration. So it's also therapy."

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Enter the "sheARTS Project: Art Hats for Breast Cancer Awareness," a series of photographs of Pratt donning a variety of creative hats made by different artists.

It started as part artistic expression, part practical need - a way for Pratt to deal with both a hairless head and her complex feelings about cancer. Eventually, she put a call out to other artists to come up with their own versions and encouraged them to donate subsequent hats to their favorite cancer charities.

One hat made with a material fashioned to mimic dreadlocks - a whole rainbow of them - expresses a feeling of youthfulness and the freedom of running one's fingers through hair, something Pratt missed when her locks disappeared.

Another, crafted from a used sweater, symbolically features wisps of red thread. "The artist left the red thread dangling because that's what cancer does to you. It leaves you dangling."

Through each pose and coordination of hat to clothing, Pratt, with the help of local photographer Meg Luther Lindholm, has attempted to express the message and spirit of the individual hat.

Luther Lindholm still remembers the day Pratt came to her home with her bald, painted head.

"I just remember thinking, 'Wow, she's putting it all out there,' " she said. "I knew she was making a statement: 'I'm going to be public, I'm not ashamed, I'm not afraid,'... and it has helped so many people open up that might not have otherwise."

Along with the hats, artists began sending Pratt descriptions of the stories surrounding their choices. Through these accounts and the collaboration of photographer and artist, the hats have taken on a life of their own.

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"When we were photographing the last batch, I was really aware that the artist is with us in the form of this hat," Luther Lindholm said. "And I've been impressed by how this project has ignited people's passions and feelings of wanting to contribute."

Pratt added, "I've gotten hats from all walks of life ... but this has grown to be more than about me. It's turned into this amazing project of people wanting to talk about their challenges."

Though a separate project, Pratt's second exhibit parallels the theme of suggesting ways to deal with life's challenges.

"Exploring Now: 365 Days to 50" presents a visual journey through her Stage IV cancer status, currently in partial remission. It incorporates ideas shared initially with Pratt by Fargo's Green Market patrons, who wrote their thoughts about how to live in the present moment on scraps of paper displayed throughout the eatery.

Along with the verbal prompts, Pratt has taken daily photos of her 49th year of life and selected those that best communicate her experiences. Each panel visually represents a month from this past year.

"A colleague helped me come up with idea of this being circular, because time isn't linear, it keeps going," Pratt said.

Viewers of the exhibit will have a chance to share their thoughts on Post-it notes that will be infused into the still-evolving project.

Pratt said a diagnosis like cancer shocks a person into recognizing their mortality, and that life ought to be lived as fully as possible.

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"When I got done with my first set of treatments, I became frustrated, but then I realized that we are all works in progress, and it's going to be something for everyone, whether a broken bone or a slip on the ice or an accident, or even the sniffles or the flu," she said. "Yes, we all die, but our timing is different."

Pratt's showcase will culminate in a birthday bash celebrating Pratt's 50th birthday on Feb. 25 at the Hjemkomst Center. The party will serve a secondary purpose of raising funds for an F-M Area Foundation Art Heals Fund.

Pratt said she's looking forward to the birthday party, which will be as much about merry-making as launching an endowment for the Art Heals Fund. Intended for anyone who supports healing art, she said, it will include games, appetizers, a birthday cake and plenty of dancing.

"I'd rather have a party while I'm alive than a funeral," Pratt said. "And I want to start this legacy, because art has been so helpful for me in times of trouble."

If you go

What: Art Heals Fundraiser & 50th Birthday Bash

When: Saturday, February 25

Where: Hjemkomst Center, 202 1st Ave. N., Moorhead

Info: Advance tickets, $15 adults; At the door, $20 adults, 18 and under free with adult. Call 701-371-7277

To participate: Artists interested in submitting hats for the sheARTS project, possibly to be part of an inspirational book Pratt intends to self-publish, can reach her at sheARTSProject@mac.com . She's also available for speaking engagements on the subject of healing art.

Online: A documentation of Pratt's "365 Days to 50" project can be found at http://cmp365daysto50.wordpress.com/; to follow her cancer journey, visit www.caringbridge.org/visit/cmpssaga

Readers can reach Forum reporter Roxane Salonen at (701) 241-5587

Claudia Pratt models "Hat for a Day and a Season"
Pratt models "The Landscape is Not the same as the Map," by Pamela Joy Jacobson, Fargo, paper & wire, 2008, sheARTS Collection. Meg Luther Lindholm / Special to The Forum

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