Fulfilling her artistic dreams: Woman stricken with MS exhibits at local café

Monday October 4, 2010

BENNINGTON -- For years, Heidi Traber produced no art.

An artist in her girlhood and teens, she contracted multiple sclerosis at the age of 19. Immediately following her diagnosis, struggling to switch from being right-handed to being left-handed, she drew tree after tree, and then ... stopped.

In 2006, newly on Social Security Disability Insurance because of the MS, she moved to Bennington from Connecticut, but was still in a rut.

Much later, when she was upset because she thought she had made an error on a job application, a friend came over and saw the two drawings Traber describes as "my heart and soul" -- a pencil rendition of a seated girl, staring pensively back at the viewer, and a near-photographic pencil drawing of an older man, and told her to never mind the job application, and focus her attention back on her art.

‘Heart and soul’

Traber said she wanted to get back into art, of course, but didn’t know how to go about that here in Bennington. The friend showed her the South Street Café, and she agreed that "someday" she’d like to have a show there. Her friend then borrowed those two "heart and soul" drawings, showed them to the owners of the café, and they immediately agreed that Traber could have a show. Traber got excited, and the art bug bit again.

"I discovered new techniques, just doing this stuff," she said, waving at the works being hung on the café walls. The show is a mix of realistic and abstract, new and old, watercolors, pencil and graphite work. She points to a progression of technique from before the diagnosis, immediately after it, and when she picked up again recently.

"Before I learned to speak, walk, or talk (after developing MS), I was already drawing with my left hand, drawing trees. I started small, with the trees, because they’re living things," Traber said. "I don’t like people telling me I can’t do anything."

The South Street show is part of a lifelong dream for Traber. "You don’t know how long I’ve waited to see it up, to know it actually means something to someone other than me," she said. She said she has always played with art, be it on paper or building sculpture from a variety of objects. "I’m so glad. It’s the only discipline you can get into and there’s always more to learn, more to delve into, more to get lost in. My mom hates abstract art. I love it."

Abstract art is "brand-new" to Traber, and represents a loosening up of style. "I’m no longer in the goth, black-lipstick phase. That was in college, but when you’re trying to sell art in the real world, it doesn’t work," she said. That said, she is still leery of people who produce a single abstract work and then declare, "’I’m an artist!’ What? because you’ve done one abstract?" she said, laughing.

Traber isn’t finished exploring artistic media, either. "I want my own woodshop, my own metalsmithing, my own foundry," she said. "I want my own table saw."

Traber said she hopes the new show provides a stepping stone to an art-filled future. "For a girl my age, people say, ‘Oh, you’re retired, you’re so lucky!’ I am not retired. I am not dead. My first goal is to get off SSDI."

Before she became ill, she was not far away from a fine arts degree, and she’d like to go back to school, finish the degree, and teach art students, with an eye to raising the bar on quality, and she hopes she can do that soon.

But the next step comes on Saturday, when the show has its official opening, and Traber will speak at 7 p.m. She said she’s not really sure what she’ll say, yet, because "I’ve never had a talk about my art. I have no problem walking up and starting a conversation," but isn’t sure where to begin when talking about herself.

Some of the art in the show is for sale, and others, with which Traber prefers not to part, will be available as prints. The pieces will be numbered, and a listing of which is which will be available.


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