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Growing art installation gathers stories of living with Parkinson's

Saturday May 07, 2016

Cory Walsh

Missoulian -

Capturing Moments 1

TOMMY MARTINO photos, Missoulian
Missoula painer Hadley Ferguson, left, and photographer Carolyn Montgomery stand for a portrait in from of a steel and copper-mesh tree with around 40 branches. The tree and photographs on display at the Montana Museum of Art and Culture's Paxson Gallery in the PAR/TV Center on the University of Montana campus are part of the "Capturing Moments: Living Life with Parkinson's" exhibit. The exhibition opens on Monday, May 9.

"Capturing Moments: Living Life with Parkinson's," an art installation that shares true stories of resilience in the face of disease, began with a tree and two friends and artists.

Hadley Ferguson, a painter known for her murals around Missoula and in the state Capitol, and Carolyn Montgomery, a photographer, initially started working with the idea of a tree as a concept for Silver Park in Missoula's Old Sawmill District.

After the two were invited to create a sculpture for the World Parkinson Congress, a gathering of experts and patients in Portland, Oregon, in the fall, the idea grew to encompass thousands of quotes and accompanying black-and-white portraits about overcoming Parkinson's disease.

The result of over a year's worth of collaboration will open Monday in the Montana Museum of Art and Culture.

In the Paxson Gallery, viewers will find a steel and copper-mesh tree with some 40 branches. On each of the 4,000 leaves in soft yellow, green and white is a quote from someone whose life has been touched by Parkinson's. They come from Australia and the Republic of the Congo, Finland and France, Jordan and Malaysia and more.

Accompanying the tree are 15 of Montgomery's portraits of people with Parkinson's or those whose lives have been affected by it, along with text telling their story of living with and overcoming the progressive neurological disease that causes stiffness and tremors, slows movement and creates problems with balance.

They include Portland resident Brian Grant, the former NBA power forward who was diagnosed with young-onset Parkinson's after he retired, and Allison Smith, a resident of Newport Beach, California, who started a fitness program called Parkinson's in Balance after she was diagnosed at an early age.

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There are photographs of Ferguson and Montgomery, too.​

​Ferguson is known for her murals around the city that are rich with historical details, like the Missoula murals on the southwest corner of West Broadway. Her most ambitious large-scale public project was unveiled last year in the Capitol. Titled "Women Build Montana," it was a multi-panel project that honored their contributions to the state's history.

Ferguson was diagnosed with young-onset Parkinson's disease in 2010. For treatment, she had to commute to Portland, where her specialist was and where she found more support and resources. She subsequently co-founded Summit for Parkinson's here to help create more programs in Montana.

Several years later, Ferguson's symptoms became atypical for classic Parkinson's. A year later, she was diagnosed with a different form, Multiple Systems Atrophy, that is more difficult to treat and manage.

In the text that accompanies her portrait, taken with her daughter in the Capitol, Ferguson says Parkinson's "has stripped away the noise from my busy life and has given me cherished time with those I love."

Ferguson has savored the opportunity to work with Montgomery, whom she credits with the bulk of the artistic side, and said it was a way to stay engaged without the physical demands of public mural projects.

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Montgomery's mother worked for Morris Silver, and he and his wife, Helen, were like grandparents to her.

Montgomery would go to work with them at Morris' plumbing and heating supply store in Missoula, and visit the Morris' home. They kept a greenhouse, where among other things they kept a grapefruit tree.

"The tree would crash through the glass of the greenhouse, and then he would fix it and prune back the tree," Montgomery said. "The concept of resilience really came from those childhood experiences."

That, too, is where the concept of the tree came from.

Montgomery is now the executive director of the Silver Foundation, a philanthropic organization that donates to causes close the Silvers' hearts, such as arts, education and community projects.

One project is Forging Resilience, which takes varied approaches to telling stories of the resilience of people with Parkinson's or other challenges. Previous efforts include an eighth-grade photo project and an original touring play with the Missoula Children's Theatre.

It was founded in honor of Morris, who lived with Parkinson's for more than 30 years before he died. However, Montgomery didn't notice the symptoms until she was in junior high.

"He simply lived with the disease and didn't let it stop him," she writes in her story.

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Once the project was conceptualized, thousands of people began submitting stories on the Forging Resilience website.

"It's emotional to have people open up to you," Ferguson said.

Through the website, they received a note from a man with Parkinson's in the Congo, where the disease is stigmatized. The two helped him find treatment from a specialist.

Through word-of-mouth and other means they found subjects for Montgomery, a Rocky Mountain School of Photography graduate, including an invitation to Israel where Intel has a high-tech pilot project on Parkinson's.

Assembling the tree, meanwhile, was undertaking. Metal artist Jason Perry forged the trunk based on the duo's design. Each leaf took about 10 minutes, from selecting quotes to printing and wrapping and assembling the branches.

"We could not have done that without the thousands of hours that people gave to us," Ferguson said.

The project will debut in Missoula before it travels to the World Parkinson Congress, where the two will gather even more stories. They have plans for it to travel farther, and Montgomery will shoot more portraits and collect them into a book.

"By far, this is the most challenging thing I've ever done," Montgomery said.

Capturing Moments 2 The steel and copper-mesh tree with around 40 branches and 4,000 leaves features a quote of a person who's life has been touched by Parkinson's.

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