The Legacy of Jane Staley: Mentor, Friend, Community Builder

Art HOPE Community Wellness Mosaic
Art HOPE Community Mosaic at the CCC

This post honors the late of Jane Staley, a mentor, friend, and the founder of the Cancer Community Center in Portland, Maine, where I have been teaching art classes since 2004. The legacy of her creative nurturing lives on in the Art HOPE workshops I teach at the Center, and in our Maine community. Recognize your angels…thanks, Jane.

My story with the Cancer Community Center began in early 1998 when my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I was the wellness program coordinator at the Women’s Health Consortium in Portsmouth, NH, a grassroots organization serving women in southern York County and a partner in the Maine Breast & Cervical Cancer Program. I wanted to learn more about the cancer killing my mother. A nurse from York Hospital suggested that I contact Jane Staley, a woman diagnosed with the disease in 1994 who was an advocate for ovarian cancer awareness. We soon connected, and with her generous enthusiasm she helped me facilitate an informational program at our women’s wellness center. We had over 30 women with family and friends at the evening event, and Jane was a wonderfully nurturing leader who was well-informed and upbeat. Even while battling her own cancer she was tireless and stayed long after the program answering the many questions and soothing the fears of our participants. With my mother in Florida dying, Jane became a mentor and friend who recognized my creative gifts and encouraged me to pursue my interest in creativity and healing. She shared her vision for the Cancer Community Center and I attended the grand opening event in South Portland, 18 years ago. I’ll never forget that night when she told me I should consider being a teacher at the center. Though I’d been facilitating creative wellness workshops for a few years I never identified myself as a “teacher”, and what she said resonated deeply with me. Jane reminded me that the center is a community, and the services and programs will support individuals in a group environment. She believed in me and gave me a nudge and confidence to become a community artist and to do what I know and what I love. We stayed in touch until her death in 2001, and finally in 2004 I began facilitating a series of workshops at the CCC.

During the past decade I’ve expanded the creative wellness classes I teach in clinical and community environments, and I founded Art HOPE in 2011, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting health and well-being through free expressive arts programs for people living with cancer and other longterm illness, and the community at large. My Simple Watercolors for Well-being class has been offered at the CCC since 2008 and we have a creative continuum of participants who help support the painting process in a lively open studio environment. We make a joke in every class that there is nothing simple about watercolors. I describe how to use materials and the organic process of painting, and mostly I give participants creative confidence. We have painters at all skill levels in the class who mentor first-timers and give the support of creative fellowship. The class has evolved with the participants, and there are a core group of artists who have expanded the community art process and are offering an Open Studio class session every Thursday at the center. Community art in action. With the help of artists at the CCC, the Art HOPE Community Wellness Mosaic is on display at the center through August, which includes works inspired by a community conversation about creative wellness. Every summer we celebrate community arts with the CCC at our annual Art HOPE Seawater Studio on Ogunquit Beach. This year it’s Tuesday, August 23, from 9:30 to 11:30am, so reserve your spot soon. Community art in action…Jane Staley would love this.

For all my friends at the Cancer Community Center, thank you for the creativity and healing we have shared. Many of you know that I’ve been writing a book about creative wellness and the Art HOPE story, which will be published this fall. What follows is an excerpt, the second to the last paragraph in the book, that describes an experience in my watercolor class at the CCC and a precious moment of hope. Recognize your angels, Jane Staley’s legacy continues to inspire.

Art HOPE Healing Opportunities for People Everyday: The Way to Creative Wellness
by Laura Jaquays

BE a creative change maker and DO what you believe to better your Self and our world. The Universe will affirm your faith and give a sign that resonates in mind-body-spirit when you are doing what you believe and on your scared pathway. I experience great joy when I am teaching watercolor classes at the cancer center, and I also experience the woes and suffering that some of my participants are going through. There is a synergy of positive energy and transference of hope within the group process that is profoundly healing. One day while teaching watercolors I had been feeling my own personal stress and was wondering if all the hard work and low pay of my chosen vocation was right the choice. A woman who was participating for the first time announced to our group that she had recently lost her daughter to cancer and was dealing with her own diagnosis and chemotherapy. Painting with watercolors relaxed her and she was visibly emotional. As I looked at her paintings at the end of the program, this woman grabbed my hand and told me that my art class was the best two hours she had in the past year. Recognize your angels. They remind us to believe in our best Self and move forward. I was humbled and my resolve strengthened to be a creative change maker and to embrace my role as animated painting teacher, and to be the pebble, the inspired spark, that moves the still waters with positive intention and belief. Affirmations of faith can be experienced in the divine moments of everyday life. I am grateful for this experience, and the hope it shines gives me faith to do my best creative work with loving intention. To be happy and keep life in balance we must love the light and the dark. Remain hopeful, and always believe that something wonderful is about to happen.