Coming full circle

Years after life-changing trauma, Camas artist opens downtown studio, says painting healed her

Heidi Jo Curley stands in her new art studio, located above Arktana shoe store in downtown Camas, on Northeast Fourth Avenue.

Heidi Jo Curley's notebooks and journals are filled with drawings like this one, of herself with her father, Jim, during a recent doctor's appointment for her dad.

Heidi Jo Curley shows a photo of her mother, Lynne, who died in 2016.

Artist Heidi Jo Curley cuts the ribbon at her art studio's ribbon-cutting ceremony on Dec. 7, in downtown Camas.

Several of artist Heidi Jo Curley's "chair series" paintings adorn the walls of her new art studio in downtown Camas.

Christmas decorations adorn Camas artist Heidi Jo Curley's new studio space in downtown Camas.

Camas artist Heidi Jo Curley shows her series of alcohol ink paintings, which use a method of moving ink without using a paintbrush. Curley often uses her breath to move the ink, resulting in these unique images that give every viewer a different scene.

Camas artist Heidi Jo Curley explains the process of alcohol ink, which she used to make this abstract painting, which she thinks looks like a bee.

Artist Heidi Jo Curley is sitting inside her new second-story, downtown Camas art studio, surrounded by memories.

A photo of her mother, Lynne, is taped near one of the studio’s north-facing windows, a few feet away from a glass jar filled with brightly colored Skittles. The candy was the only thing Lynne could eat during her final weeks of life, and Curley recalls family members and friends gathering around Lynne’s bed in 2016, a jar of Skittles nearby, bonding over stories and last moments.

On her workspace, a journal shows the various ideas and project-starts rolling through Curley’s mind. Drawings and doodles blend together with the words. On one page, two figures — Curley and her dad, Jim — are walking together, facing away from the viewer.

“My dad has prostate cancer, and I drew that the day I went to an appointment with him,” Curley says, pausing to touch the drawing before continuing. “I’ve been drawing people lately … drawing their backs. In my mind, it’s hopeful. They’re walking toward something.”

Forging ahead, often without knowing exactly what lies beyond, is something Curley, 50, could write a book about.

In fact, her journey toward opening this pretty, light-filled art studio, which the Downtown Camas Association celebrated with an official ribbon-cutting on Dec. 7, started from a place of deep despair.

“Out of darkness, into the light. You can’t know the highs of life without experiencing the dark lows,” Curley says, recalling the path she’s walked since 2010, when her husband, Ed, died unexpectedly, leaving Curley alone with three young daughters, then ages 15, 12 and 7.

At 42, Curley started over. She purchased the historic Farrell House in Camas with the dream of hosting backyard weddings and intimate tea parties inside the 1913 Greek Revival home. The city council shot down her plans, citing concerns from neighbors over parking and noise, but the process gained Curley a few good friends, including Scott Higgins, then the new mayor of Camas.

“Scott and his wife were wonderful and always there for my girls,” Curley says, before pointing out two paintings she featured inside Higgins’ home during the 2018 Clark County Parade of Homes.

Circles on the abstract, mixed-media paintings represent Curley’s feeling of “coming full circle.”

“Scott had just become the mayor when I met him,” Curley says. “It was right after Ed died and I was in a dark place.”

Now, Higgins has retired from politics to spend more time with his family, and Curley says her life has rotated away from the dark and come into the light: her daughters are thriving, she found a passion for art that she didn’t know existed before the death of her husband, she has found great joy and comfort with her new partner, Mark, whom she met during a Thanksgiving morning bicycle ride a few years after moving to Camas, and now she has opened her own art studio.

“It’s like we’ve come full circle,” Curley says.

She has that same feeling when she looks out her studio’s south-facing windows and sees Cafe Piccolo, a place that helped her find community, friendship and art after Ed’s death.

“I would come downtown every day and go to Cafe Piccolo and talk to these wonderful people,” Curley says. “That’s where I met Elida.”

Camas artist and art instructor Elida Field encouraged Curley to try her hand at art — and to take an art-themed trip to Italy — early in Curley’s grieving process.

Curley recalls walking through Italian streets with a man named Father Bruno, with a sketch pad and a sharpie, drawing a dot and then a line, taking her time with the artistic process and letting it work its magic on her heart and soul.

When she returned to Camas, Curley continued to paint, using her hands instead of paint brushes and creating abstract pieces that allowed her to work through her emotions.

Curley used to say that her art was healing her. Now, she says her art has healed her.

“Mark and I have a wonderful life together,” Curley says. “Ed will always be a part of our story, but I feel like I’ve healed.”

A natural healer — Curley was a labor and delivery nurse before Ed’s death and says she has always loved caring for others — the Camas artist seems drawn toward using her art to help others. She volunteers at an assisted living home in Oregon once a month, and helps the residents there find their own healing through the artistic process. She often donates her paintings for charity, giving recent pieces to a group supporting breast cancer survivors as well as a nonprofit that helps abused and neglected children.

She also is thinking about how she might use her new studio space to accommodate art classes for small groups, perhaps groups of people who are, as Curley once was, seeking a way of healing and of, as Curley says, “coming out of the darkest darks and finding that light.”

For more information about Curley’s art, or her new Camas art studio, which is located above Arktana shoe store at 417 N.E. Fourth Ave., and only open by appointment at this time, visit HeidiJoCurley.com, email HeidiJoCurley@gmail.com, follow her on Instagram at @HeidiJoCurley or call 360-624-0983.

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