Brandon artist Tecari Shuman: ‘Colors are important to me’
BRANDON — “Colors are important to me.”
So begins Tecari Shuman’s artist statement in his catalog of paintings.
“I don’t know exactly why, but they are. It goes back to my landscaping days. I noticed that certain colors just go well together — just feel right. Working in the landscape, I became connected to nature. Through this intimate relationship, I discovered that I am nature … that we’re all nature.”
Nature has been both friend and foe to Shuman, 73. He contracted polio as a child growing up in Flushing, Queens, N.Y., and recovered, but the disease left him with spinal issues. In the early 1990s his left leg began to atrophy. Still, he spent years as a gifted and successful landscape architect, only to have the shadow of post-polio syndrome rear in 2008. The motor neurons that were affected by the disease began to fail. Shuman was diagnosed following a foot and leg reconstructive surgery. What he and his wife Ann Marie Roth didn’t know was that anesthesia like paralytics, which render the patient immobile, can also affect those post-polio motor neurons.
“They never wake up again,” Roth explained. “After that surgery, he lost 30 pounds of muscle and started failing.”
Shuman started walking with a cane, and then crutches. But he kept doing physical therapy and started to gain back his strength.
But in 2012, Shuman and Roth suffered another blow. Shuman was diagnosed with hydrocephalus, a condition where the cerebral fluid does not drain properly and pressure builds, affecting brain function. There is no cure, and the fluid can only be removed surgically.
CHANGE OF SCENERY
In 2005, the couple took the advice of a doctor and moved from Monkton to New Mexico, a warmer and drier climate that was supposed to be better for Shuman’s chronic pain.
“I was ready to come back after the first year,” Shuman said. “The sun is so intense, I’d go out and I’d wilt.”
“It was so debilitating,” Roth added. “It was worse than the winters here.”
With the hydrocephalus diagnosis in 2012, they decided to return to Vermont, and to hear Roth tell it, fate chose Brandon for them.
“We weren’t sure where we wanted to go,” she said. “Maybe a little south of Monkton. Then one day, Brandon just popped into my head.”
Roth said they would often pass through town driving from Monkton to Connecticut to visit her parents.
“It was the energy and the people,” she said. “It so obvious that this was the place.”
They currently rent a blue Victorian on Park Street, formerly owned and renovated by Maria Ammatuna. And, not long after they moved to Brandon, Shuman discovered his afternoon “coffee guys.”
The group of 10 local older men meets for coffee, discussion and good-natured ribbing every afternoon at 2:30 p.m. at Gourmet Provence in downtown Brandon (pictured, right).
“He’s been meeting with them for six years,” Roth said. “George Wetmore and Charlie Jakiela would pass by walking in the morning and invite him to come along. The group has done so much. They make it possible for him to go to coffee.”
But Shuman’s medical troubles were not over. In 2016, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, a progressive disease of the nervous system marked by tremors, loss of muscle control and balance.
Now using a motorized scooter to get around, Shuman motors to Gourmet from his Park Street home and meets with his friends. His motor skills have declined, and he has memory issues and speaks very little, but he counts on those coffee meetings.
Wayne Rausenberger is in the coffee group and built a ramp for Shuman on the front of his house. Jack Fillioe built a platform for Shuman’s scooter near the gardens behind the house. On the days Shuman isn’t up to making the trip to coffee, Blaine Cliver comes up the street and visits him at the house.
Still, the ongoing medical issues and chronic pain were taking their toll on Shuman’s mental health, and he became more and more withdrawn.
Robert Black, a local architect and director of the Carving Studio in West Rutland, is also part of the coffee group. A great believer in the power of art, Black came to Shuman’s house one day in April 2017 armed with painting supplies.
“He said, ‘We are going to paint today,’” Shuman recalled. “And he sat down with me and we painted. He’s a very positive person, and it was contagious.”
Sitting in Shuman’s front room, Black said he was compelled to introduce his friend to painting.
“He and I have a connection,” Black said, turning to Shuman. “I see it in your eyes and in your heart.”
Black said he began by talking to Shuman about art and life and what it meant to him.
“So we took our paper and a pen and just started doodling,” Black said. “And he said, ‘Here’s a flower,’ and then he put his initials on it.”
That pen and ink flower on paper now sits in a 5 x 7-inch black frame in Roth and Shuman’s home, a beginning on display.
“After that we just put on aprons and put down some plastic and started painting,” Black said.
Roth said there was much more to the act of painting than something to do.
“One of the things that is especially important about what is happening here is that Tecari was discouraged and wasn’t feeling particularly hopeful,” she said.
“I was depressed,” Shuman said matter-of-factly.
“So I see it as a very significant turning point in his dealing with his diagnosis,” Roth said.
A BODY OF WORK
Black began coming to the house once a week and the two men would paint together. Now, over a year later, Shuman has created 112 paintings and Black helped him pick out 40 for an exhibit at the Compass Music and Arts Center in Brandon that opened at the end of August.
For Shuman, painting has become a lifeline, a tool he uses to feel better.
“Grove,” a painting by Tecari Shuman
“When I was in a lot of pain, sometimes I would make myself paint, and it would come out ugly,” he said. “I was very depressed and I found art really drew me out of that. I started to see life differently. I started to be more positive.”
The former dining room in the Victorian is now Shuman’s studio, tall windows all around letting in plenty of natural light, the wood floor creaking under his scooter. A table sits in the center of the room, with an angled easel board to hold Shuman’s canvases, colorful tubes of oil and acrylic paint piled to the right, paintbrush bristles peering out of cans, waiting to be used.
Shuman started painting trees and landscapes, then moved into more abstract work, the influences of Pollock and Miro and others evident in the colorful drips and lines.
“I really love it,” Shuman said. “It always helped to shift my mood. I always want to step into the painting and be uplifted by it.”
“The change in you was almost immediate,” Roth said to her husband. “If I couldn’t find him, he’d be in here, painting.”
Rutland County Home Health and Hospice has a major role in the nurturing part of Shuman’s life. Aids Steven and Justin come to the house for Monday-Friday coverage helping Shuman, which allows Roth to work. She owns and operates Nourish Your Purpose, a nature-based healing and personal health business. She is a licensed masseuse and reflexologist, and also offers aromatherapy and dietary consultations.
And while improving Shuman’s emotional health was key, Roth said she has seen physical benefits to his painting practice.
“I think it’s improved his fine motor skills, as well as his emotional health,” she said. “While he’s not able to do fine detail work, I think painting has helped his brain and his body to communicate better.”
She paused, adding softly, “Thank goodness for Robert.”
“Ocean and Beach,” a painting by Tecari Shuman
Shuman doesn’t paint every day, but he still paints often. The hardest part of preparing for the August opening at the Compass Music and Arts Center has been choosing which 40 paintings will be displayed.
There is a remarkable passage farther down in Shuman’s artist statement from the catalog that shows he just may have made peace with himself.
“In another strange way, my Parkinson’s helps too,” he writes. “Sometimes I put the brush on the paper and the Parkinson’s tells me what to do with it. Suddenly sweeping lines, swooping drips, and other forms appear before me on the paper. As this happens, new images dance before my mind’s eye, and each painting finds its own spirit…”
Over time, Shuman learned to embrace the artist within, and Black pointed that out to him.
“When we first started talking about you being an artist, you always laughed,” Black said to Shuman. “And at some point, you stopped laughing. You became an artist.”
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