News ArchivesRead News

Pearl Gallery artist uses her work to reflect on a Parkinson's Disease diagnosis

Wednesday September 19, 2012

Rebecca Koffman

The Oregonian - Mixed media artist Trisha Hassler grew frightened a year ago when she found her stride reduced to a shuffle rather than a walk.

The right side of my body changed, my leg dragged, my handwriting got smaller, I lost my signature,” she recalls.

Doctors were not sure what was wrong.

She also knew that she had twelve months to prepare for her gallery show this September at the Pearl District's Waterstone Gallery, where she is one of 16 artist owners.

She decided to begin a project to mark that year – a ritual of disciplined art-making to help her get through her physical uncertainty. “I knew 365 was too much, and 12 was not enough. I decided on 52.”

Each week, starting Sept. 5, 2011, she quilted a 10-inch square of black or brown fabric. On each one she handstitched a spiral. “I didn’t know if I was going to get to 52.”

In January of 2012, she learned that she had Parkinson’s Disease. After the long months of uncertainty, this diagnosis she says, didn’t “feel like a door slamming or being hit by a ton of bricks." Rather, she says, "it felt like a turning point, a path to more definitive action.”

She responded well to the medication. She did research. She implemented an exercise program. The family attended a gala fundraiser for Parkinson’s Resources of Oregon, an organization which offers non-medical support to those impacted by Parkinson’s. Hassler says,

“It was the first time I’d been in a room full of people who had what I had and they all seemed perfectly normal.”

Her daughter, Jessie Hassler, organized a team to walk in this September’s Parkinson’s Resources of Oregon’s 8th annual Sole Support Race, and every week Hassler continued to make squares for her Calendar Project.

Last week, Hassler hung the fifty-two pieces on one wall of the Waterstone Gallery. The spirals in each piece are different, symmetrical and tightly controlled in the first weeks, looser and more playful in some later panels.

She writes of the piece in her artist’s statement, ”I wanted to work with my body and discover what my new parameters are. . . What do I have to say about strength and determination?”

For each piece sold from the Calendar Project, a donation will be made to Parkinson's Resources of Oregon.

Also on display in the Waterstone Gallery for the month of September are other works that Hassler made over the last twelve months. Constructed from indigo –hued, hand-dyed fabric and patinaed steel, the pieces have titles that reflect her preoccupations this past year: “Some Things Happen Exactly Once,” or “Leave No Stone Unturned” or “What If It’s An Answer You Weren’t Looking For.”

Hassler points to the fabric that she manipulated using a Japanese technique called Shibori which involves tying, folding and clamping the cloth before dying it.

“This show is very much about the physical being,” she says, pointing to repeating patterns in the fabric and musing that they are reminiscent of "cells, tissues, muscles."

Some of the pieces feature clumps and clusters of tiny beads – “I was thinking of Lewy bodies," she says, (abnormal aggregates of protein that develop inside the nerve cells of Parkinson’s patients) “about what was and wasn’t happening in my brain.”

Another long-time preoccupation visible in all these pieces: "the ways we mark time, with rows of beads or stitches, with hatch marks." For this year, "I wanted to make a body of work that is cohesive, speaks with one voice.”

Her routines have changed over the last year. She walks more, dances more. She no longer goes alone to the metal shop to cut steel.

What are her plans for the future? "I’m not done with this imagery," she says. "I have ideas for new stuff. I want to try dying fabric in greens and browns next.”