On view in Taft Hall through mid-October is an exhibit of works by renowned artist Sheila Pitt.
Pitt has been a Professor of Art at the University of Arizona since 1990 and she teaches courses in printmaking and drawing. A horseback accident in 2008 left Professor Pitt a quadriplegic, but that didn't stop her from returning to her passion for art and for teaching.
Paralyzed from the neck down, Pitt would have to give up horseback riding, one of the loves of her life. Unable to move her arms and hands, it seemed she would no longer be able to practice art either. Before the accident, she did woodcut printmaking, which involves doing intricate cutouts on pieces of wood, using your hands.
"I just didn't believe it," Pitt recalls. "I still wake up in the morning and don't believe it every morning. I'm like, how can this be? Because I was so active. Teaching and riding and traveling and gardening and doing all kinds of things."
It seemed, then, like life as she knew it might be over. But just a year and a half after her accident, Pitt began to rediscover her passion for one of the things she loves most. With the encouragement of her doctor, therapist and family, she returned to the classroom, which she says has lifted her spirits in ways nothing else could have.
"It's really been the most wonderful thing for me to come back to work," says Pitt. "First of all, I've re-entered the world that way and I can participate in the world. Staying at home in bed is not a particularly interesting future. And I love teaching. I love printmaking and I have a really wonderful time with the students, so I look forward to it."
That same creative spirit made it impossible for Pitt to stay away from her own artwork for long. She started to create prints again with the help of a computer tool that allows her to work with her limited mobility.
"Her show came to St. Mark's because I know Sheila professionally through her work," said veteran SM art teacher Barbara Putnam. "She used to make very large woodcuts, so it was inevitable that we would meet, we have been in several shows together. We became friends over the years and all of us printmakers were devastated by her accident."
Like so many in the art community, Ms. Putnam has been both moved and impressed by Professor Pitt's perseverance. "Sheila has nerves of steel, an ironic thing to say since she has no feeling in much of her body, but she is the only person I can possibly imagine who could come through such a devastating experience and reinvent herself as a practicing artist and teacher," declares Putnam. "As you look at her prints now MUCH smaller, you can see that she still loves horses, she has an assistant who prints her work, she draws with her non dominant hand, and she has lots to say. As a person who saw no choice but to be resilient, Shelia is an inspiration to me and I hope to all who take the time to look at her work and what she is telling us about the possibilities and challenges in her new life."
*this article was put together by the St. Mark's Communications team with information from a piece by Alexis Blue of the University of Arizona communications office*