“I’ve learned to connect with people.” A St. Paul stroke survivor is using art to heal

A St. Paul stroke survivor is using art to heal

A St. Paul stroke survivor is using art to heal

“There’s something about the light coming through the glass that’s so beautiful,” Jeannie Bridgeman says.

Afternoon light streams through the windows of the ‘Mosaic On A Stick’ art studio in St. Paul.

It’s where Bridgeman — a stroke survivor — is hard at work, using watercolors and stained glass to heal.

“I still struggle with writing, reading, listening and talking,” Bridgeman explains. “There’s a lot of sensory overload that brings anxiety. When I’m doing my art, I can tune all of that out. Give that part of my brain a rest, and just feel in the flow and in the moment.”

In September 2019, Bridgeman, a 58-year-old mother of three, suffered a stroke that triggered aphasia — an inability to comprehend or formulate language.

“I felt something was weird,” she recalls. “My arm was kind of numb, but I didn’t really realize anything was wrong until I started to speak, and I wasn’t making any sense at all.”

Bridgeman’s husband Mark realized she was showing symptoms of a stroke and took her to the hospital.

Since then, her life has changed dramatically, transitioning from a job as a controller for a non-profit, to undergoing two years of speech therapy and three years of physical therapy at the Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute.

Bridgeman says creating and displaying her art is a way to reconnect with the world.

“I’ve learned to connect with people in a much more meaningful way,” she declares. “Finding that deeper connection with people and finding some strength I didn’t have within myself.”

Bridgeman is not alone.

The Minnesota Department of Health says there are tens of thousands of stroke survivors in Minnesota.

The agency says nearly 2,400 Minnesotans died from strokes in 2021 — the fifth leading cause of death in the state.  

“In 2021 approximately 110,000 Minnesotans had sustained a stroke,” explains Brad Donaldson, the CEO of the Minnesota Stroke Association. 

May is national stroke awareness month.

Donaldson notes that art is a way for stroke survivors to communicate and share their stories.

“For many it’s a healing process,” he says. “It’s a step forward. They’re giving back to some of the individuals who might have given to them on their journey so far.”

Which brings us to the 60th annual ‘Art of Possibilities.’

A show and sale at Allina Health’s Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute in Golden Valley. 

We asked Brian LeLoup, the Director of Sub Acute Rehabilitation there, if he thinks art heals.

“I think it absolutely does,” he declares. “It also allows more individuals to work through emotions, feelings, scenarios that they might be experiencing.”

200 works are on display here, with 500 more online — all created by artists with disabilities.

Several of Bridgeman’s pieces are in the exhibition.

“I think the process allows individuals to step outside of their current space,” LeLoup explains. “Engage in a world of their own creation, in a world that is only limited by their imagination.”

One of Bridgeman’s favorite projects is a stained-glass toucan she made for a Florida man, whose Sanibel Island home was destroyed during Hurricane Ian last September.

“The things that he had lost,” she says. “Loss of his home, and this could be something that was familiar, but different, that he could have in his new place. It gave me a kind of peace when I was working on it, but maybe in some way I was giving him some peace as well.” 

As for Bridgeman, she’s been working at the studio several times a week.

She says she’s created about seventy pieces in watercolor and stained glass since her stroke.

Creating and exploring — and looking forward to the future.

“It’s a way to express myself,” Bridgeman says. “Finding the art to connect to subjects and people in a new way, that’s kind of fun and exciting.”

The Art of Possibilities exhibit runs through May 31.

You can find more about the show here.