The woman who developed a talent for art following a stroke
When Janet Heaven suffered a life-changing stroke, it unearthed an extraordinary talent.
She met a colleague who later became her husband. But in 2017, after being married for three months, she suffered a rare kind of stroke at work.
She had none of the classic symptoms, such as slackness in the face, and it was only after an MRI scan that a stroke diagnosis was confirmed.
“It began with an initial feeling of dizziness, then a sharp pain in my head and a deadening sensation across my body from my right arm down to my left leg,” recalls Janet.
“Then eyesight slowly faded to tiny pin-holes leaving me virtually blind.”
After spending time in York Hospital, she was discharged home a changed person.
“My perspective and thinking were disjointed, different and confusing,” she says.
Janet lost her driving licence, along with her independence, and felt devalued because of her inability to deal with such mundane issues as sorting insurance.
“In addition I developed a fear of going out as I felt extremely vulnerable,” she said.
A visit to a memory clinic brought everything back in a flood of emotion, leaving her sobbing uncontrollably.
“The police were brilliant – they paid me a basic wage so I wouldn’t lose my house and provided all the equipment needed so that I would be able to work from home.”
But because of the critical nature of being a first responder and the stress it generated, Janet had to give up the job she loved.
Understandably it had an effect on her emotional wellbeing.
“I sat at home looking for a way to move forward in a different life as I wasn’t able to do the things that I had loved before, such as embroidery and cooking because I was blind.
“The hobbies that gave me such pleasure were out of reach.”
Gradually, as her eyesight started to return, it brought a wonderful gift – for the first time she could see colours in radiant brilliance.
She wanted to preserve the beauty so her sister Sandra Parker, an established artist, encouraged her to paint what she saw.
Janet learnt to use acrylic paints which could capture the vibrancy of the colours she now experienced.
Her garden became critically important to her as a source of colours from flowers and insects.
She had been brought up on a farm in Yorkshire, so nature and the countryside were important, and the stroke had brought them back to her more vividly than she had ever experienced.
Janet began her artwork as therapy, but as her talent emerged, her sister, who had an art gallery in Barnard Castle, exhibited some of her work there.
The exhibition was successful and her work began to sell.
Janet recalled: “My lack of confidence made me question if what I produced was acceptable, so I decided to go back to college to improve myself.”
She did a foundation course in art and design, at Harrogate College – in a class full of young school leavers.
“I was terrified, I stuttered, I missed things being taught in class, but I persevered and found that studying helped my brain to create new neural pathways.
“When you challenge yourself, it not only develops new skills, but you gain a sense of value in yourself.”
She passed her course with distinction and was accepted into Leeds Beckett University.
But she was faced with a choice of pursuing two directions – either the intellectual one at university, or going on her own to open a gallery.
“I was so inspired by the course and my success that I decided to open my own gallery.” And so in January this year she got a lease on a small shop in Bedale.
The doors to her little gallery opened on March 9 although they were open for only two days before the lockdown was imposed.
Three months later, on June 16, she re-opened the Moorlands Gallery with an ethos is to promote accessibility to art as well as providing exposure for other local artists who may lack the confidence to find an audience themselves.
Other artists are able to rent space in her gallery instead of having to tout their work from gallery to gallery in the hope of getting it exhibited.
This scheme is proving to be highly successful.
Janet envisions the walls of her gallery full of different styles and genres of art without limit or boundaries and to appeal to younger audiences.
At college, her course included inter-generational collaboration which took her to research ancient cave art.
“Art can build a bridge between our ancestors and our future generations,” she says.
Janet explored this by working with her young grandchildren doing hand painting similar to prehistoric cave art, and with the older generation who lived at the Benkhill Residential Care facility who participated in creating a beautiful mural in a corner of the lounge.
The little gem that is Moorlands Gallery, in Bedale, which also exhibits an eclectic variety of work by her sister, her niece, her son-in-law, herself and other artists.
Janet’s journey has been full of self-doubt, but she has the compulsion of a creative person to persevere and overcome obstacles, while enjoying herself and helping others.
Moorlands Gallery, 9 Market Place, Bedale.