BY PENNY WEBB
Whidbey Life Magazine contributor
Jan. 14, 2014
Ivan Neaigus’ story is a love story on so many levels.
There’s the love for his late wife, Sarah Letitia Wallace. The love of their individual and shared artwork. The selfless love of the caregiver during his wife’s walk with Alzheimer’s. And now, the love of a new beginning with a new partner, Talia Toni Marcus, and a new purpose: to help bring art into the lives of Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers.
“I really am as happy with my life as I could hope to be,” he said. “I am living in the moment.”
A retrospective of Wallace’s work, along with Neaigus’ recent sculptures, opens this Saturday, Jan. 18, with a reception from 5-8 p.m. at Brackenwood Gallery in Langley. At 6 p.m. Neaigus will speak about his experiences with Wallace. Marcus will interpret the art through her music. Then, together, they will discuss their work to help caregivers and patients use art to lift spirits and ease the transitions through illness.
“We call it ‘Transitional Togetherness,’” Marcus said. “The idea is to make art – in any form – a tool for well-being. Find the things that lift the spirits of patients and then recreate them in some way.”
Soon after Wallace’s diagnosis in 2001, Neaigus began casting about for the magic bullet to fix the unfixable. Eventually, he found the work of Dr. Cameron Camp who uses a Montessori approach in Alzheimer’s treatment. Though he couldn’t stop what was happening, Neaigus realized he could ease Wallace’s burden by providing her with a means to tap into her spirit, to keep her connected to her creativity. Each day he would lovingly sharpen and lay out her pencils in their shared studio space. It became a sacred ritual, and a consistent routine amidst the uncertainty of a destructive illness.
“Every day, you need to find your new normal,” Neaigus said. “If you can recognize and acknowledge it, then you can go on.”
Before the onset of Alzheimer’s, Wallace was a painter and photographer, working in stylized realism. As her illness became more pronounced her work became more and more abstract. These pieces, entitled “Transitions,” are fluid, colorful pencil sketches, with circular forms and soft edges. Later, as her illness progressed, Neaigus began creating a structure for Wallace to work around, sketching an outline of form to which Wallace would add. These pieces, entitled “Completion,” document Wallace’s decline. The last of this series, #45, remains heartbreakingly unfinished. Wallace died in July 2012.
Prints of the “Transition” and “Completion” pieces will be available for purchase at the gallery; a portion of the proceeds will go to the “Time Together” program at Bayview Senior Center, which gives respite for caregivers, and to Alzheimer’s research.
The Alzheimer’s Association became interested in Wallace and Neaigus’ collaborative work after Neagius did a presentation for them last year. This year, Neaigus and Marcus will present at the Alzheimer Association Convention in April. They will also be taking their “Transitional Togetherness” workshops to local Alzheimer’s and caregiver support groups throughout the region.
“We want to share our story with other caregivers to help them find their own creativity and to support their patients through art, music, movement and reflective meditation,” Marcus said.
Out of the ashes of loss comes the new beginning. “Talia has been a friend to Sarah and me for many years,” Neaigus said. “She came onboard the project to add her musical talents … and now we’re together!”
Neaigus has also returned to creating his own art and a number of his new pieces will be on display at Brackenwood. “During Sarah’s illness, my own art was on the back burner. There was so much else to take care of,” Neaigus said. “Now, I am able to come back to my work and also take the gifts of my experience with Sarah and share it with others.”
Brackenwood Gallery is located at 302 First Street in Langley. Gallery hours are Thurs thru Mon 11-5. Closed Tues and Weds. 360-221-2978.
For more information on Wallace’s work and life visit http://www.art-in-transition.com/
Penny Webb is a writer, mother, gardener, and musician. She is currently working on her New Year’s resolutions and eating kale.
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