There was a time when Bernadette Kroft always had a paintbrush or pencil in hand.
Art helped the longtime Coldstream resident get through a somewhat turbulent childhood and was there for her when life dealt her tough challenges as an adult.
Now a constant creator in all manners and mediums of art, Kroft is one of the participants who is part of the 12th annual Awakening the Spirit art show and sale, which celebrates the creative talents of people living with mental illness.
Sponsored by the Mental Illness Family Support Centre (MIFSC) and the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), the exhibition at the Vernon Performing Art Centre’s Coat Check Gallery features 23 artists who have 33 pieces of art displayed.
The CMHA reports that when art is created, there’s a flood of neuron activity in the brain, producing endorphins. The release of those endorphins can provide relief from pain, help with symptoms of anxiety or depression, as well as elevate mood.
However, Kroft says that people can do artwork and not always be happy.
“It depends on where the art takes you,” she said.
Kroft became interested in art at the age of four, and in elementary school could always be found drawing or painting. Being creative helped her through the stresses of moving from place to place when she was young.
“Art was something I could pick up wherever. It helped with the stress of moving and losing friends – we moved 20 times in my youth. Art was relatively consistent and some of my teachers were better than others,” she said.
Although her work was often praised by instructors, Kroft did manage to impress one of her tougher critics with a picture she’d drawn of a kitten with a ball of yarn.
“My mom could be a bit more critical, but this time she said, ‘that’s really good,’” said Kroft. “The funny story is that I had traced it. My twin sister did a similar drawing, and drew it, not traced it, and my mom didn’t say anything to her.”
Kroft went beyond tracing, but eventually stopped making art for a 20-year period to look after her son who was born with juvenile rheumatic arthritis.
“My son had many ailments as a child – E. coli, meningitis. He’s the main reason I stopped my art. Then, I became sick,” she said.
Between being a wife, a mother (Kroft also has a daughter) and running a dairy farm, the stress, she says, was too much to handle.
“I had a lot of stress because my family was generally poor and I had married into a middle class family. I tried to keep up with that,” she said. “When I broke down, I was able to come out of it, but over the years it does take a toll out of you.”
Kroft returned to her art when her son started getting better, and she has been creating ever since.
Her work for Awakening the Spirit includes a collage made from discontinued wallpaper and textile upholstery, and a photograph she took of a red-tailed hawk that she then manipulated using PhotoShop.
“My work fluctuates. I do something different all the time, from realistic to surrealism to abstract. I also love to draw plants and animals, big and small. I don’t limit myself to anything in particular,” said Kroft, who also salvages frames and fixes them up for some of her works.
Kroft has also created some inventive pieces using household and found items through Gishwhes (www.gishwhes.com) – a massive global scavenger hunt that is described as “part silliness, part art, part kindness and 100 per cent fun.”
“I made portraits of Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) with salt and pepper and Taylor Swift with beans,” she said. “On one, we had to make a dress out of paper and also do a puppet show for kids. I also took a photo of a teddy bear paragliding.”
Kroft also volunteers her services to create some of the creepy makeup and costumes for the Okanagan Science Centre’s haunted house and O’Keefe Ranch’s haunted corn maze.
Kroft, along with other local artists involved with the Awakening the Spirit show will be selling some of their works via art cards at the Vernon CMHA’s Georgette Shop in October.
The public can view Awakening the Spirit (all works are for sale) until Nov. 2 at the Coat Check Gallery during performances at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre as well as on Tuesdays from noon to 1:30 p.m. For a special viewing, contact Sue at 250-542-3114.