In June, 2017, West Virginia University Medicine was studying a little-known approach to cancer treatment called narrative medicine. The aim was to improve the treatment experience for doctors and patients alike through storytelling. We met and followed a cancer patient, Lacie Wallace, who was diagnosed with stage-four colon cancer.
The art of storytelling has had lasting effects for her family and community. Almost two years later, we pick up her story again. A group of artists in Wheeling recently made good on a promise to Lacie and the two daughters she had to leave behind.
The Stifel Fine Arts Center in Wheeling presented an art exhibit this spring called The Art of Healing. The exhibition included drawings, paintings, photography, sculpture and writing that explored the emotional impact of physical illness and “the therapeutic power of the creative process to address physical, emotional and spiritual needs.”
The Stifel Fine Arts Center’s exhibit The Art of Healing culminated last week with a silent art auction.
Wheeling-area artist Cecy Rose is part of a group called the independent artists who meet to make art at the Stifle.
“The art group has been getting together for about 15 years now,” Cecy said. “We just started out as a group of artists that wanted to get together and draw from the live model.”
Cecy met and invited Lacie Wallace to sit for the group 10 years ago. Lacie loved being a model for the group.
“And she stuck with us for at least eight years and then she got her diagnosis, and she stuck with us for most of that. She modeled for us when she had lost 100 pounds for the colon cancer. And we just rode it out together.”
Cecy and some of the artist group went to visit Lacie when she was ill. Lacie asked them to do her a favor.
“She said, ‘I’m gonna be a warrior…but just in case, would you put an exhibit together of all these paintings for me. Do this for my daughters.’ And we said, of course.”
Cecy got to work organizing first a small show, then a larger auction in collaboration with the Stifel Fine Arts Center during their exhibition The Art of Healing. Cecy said most of the art sold and several portraits were donated back to the family. Dozens of community members showed up to bid. All proceeds went into a fund for Rozzalin and Zuzu, Lacie's daughters. The independent artist group, together with the Stifel Fine Arts Center, managed to raise $4,000 for Lacie’s girls.
Cecy said the auction and the larger exhibit provided valuable insight about some of the deeper values of art.
“I think this brought awareness to the community that art permeates everything,” she said. “Art is so healing.”
An Artist’s Auction
Rozzalin Wallace, Lacie’s almost-14-year-old daughter, read an artist statement about her mom:
“Lacie Lee Wallace was a Wheeling artist who was a mother of two and diagnosed with stage-4 colon cancer when she was in her 30s.”
Rozzalin stood in front of one of her mom’s pieces at the art exhibit. An abstractly painted self-portrait called “Selfless Portrait” had dreadlocks attached to it. An abstracted key made of loosely spindled wire hung from a necklace also attached through the canvas around the neck of the painted portrait.
“Consisting of buttons, bows, butterflies,” Rozzalin read on from the words her mother wrote on the back of the canvas, “my dreadlocks from 2006-2008 and replica of my grandmother’s key that I have worn since her death in 2003.”
Rozzalin also happens to be wearing a key necklace but she says there’s no real sentimental value like her mom’s had. Her mother’s key will go to her 4-year-old little sister, Zuzu.
Zuzu’s grandfather -- Lacie’s dad, Tom Garafalo -- was also at the auction. He was always close to Lacie and remembers when she first became interested in art as a young girl.
“We would go to the library and get books on art and she understood that artists were trying to bring you somewhere and put you in a certain moment of time,” he said.
Tom loved all the portraits of Lacie from the various artists over the years but not just to see the variations of his daughter, but because of what the portraits revealed about her relationship to the artists.
“Every single painting -- they took the tattoos off,” Tom observed. “Lacie didn’t like her tattoos. That means they understood her. The art wasn’t just a woman who’s posing for someone it was someone that they knew.”
“She told us near the end,” Cecy recalled, “that she just wanted to be a painting on the wall of a woman that people would walk past and say, ‘I wonder who that woman is?’”