Judy Craig’s sculptures are meticulous and insightful. Two trees are made of twisted wire, one empty and barren, the other alive with “fruit” made of coloured crystals. The barren tree is adhered to a stone, its roots exposed. The life-filled tree is nestled in “grass” and the ladder and box filled with fruit is evidence that there is plenty for this tree to share.
The sculpture is part of a unique exhibit that was presented by Communitas Supportive Care Society called Hear and See: Poetry and Art for Mental Health last spring at the Reach Gallery Museum Abbotsford. Fourteen poets wrote a poem about their experience with mental illness. Each poem was then given to an artist to interpret visually. Judy’s sculpture is an interpretation of a poem by Miya Fontaine called The Warning Label Won’t Peel Off.
“Miya’s poem struck me as helpless and vulnerable, as if she was unable to escape her trauma,” Judy explains. “The barren tree represents susceptibility to the environment around it. Miya and the tree were at the mercy of others. The fruit bearing tree altered its chemistry and with care and support was able to bear fruit.”
Everyone who participated in the exhibit has lived experience with mental illness, either personally or as a family member or care-giver. Judy lives with an acquired brain injury that has deeply affected her life.
Nine years ago, she developed Reactive Hypoglycemia, a rare side effect to surgery. The condition means her blood sugars drop drastically within two hours of eating, that can cause her to seizure and lose consciousness. In November of 2016, she fell and hit her head resulting in a compression fracture in her spine and a concussion.
“The fall left me with a moderate traumatic brain injury,” she says. “As a result, I am now unable to work or take part in an active lifestyle as I once did.”
Her new reality left her feeling hopeless but through support from Fraser Valley Brain Injury Association, she learned about Communitas and its Brain Injury Drop-In. The Drop-In meets twice a week in Abbotsford and gives Judy a place to go where people understand her.
“Interacting with others that are on the same journey as me has given me courage, heart and the ability to bounce back,” she says.
Returning to art has also been life-giving. She has loved art for as long as she can remember and had renewed her passion for her skills just before her brain injury.
“Not only does art let me focus on something positive it enables me to achieve success,” she says.
Her main medium is wood carving and acrylic painting but for the Hear and See exhibit, she chose to create the two tree sculptures. When Judy was first approached about taking part in the exhibit, she felt very self-conscious.
“I had never been to a gallery, let alone display my work for the public,” she says, but adds that taking part in the exhibit has been an honour. “My eyes have been opened to new possibilities and it was great to receive feedback from the community (at the opening reception in March.)”