Art Therapy

“One of the basic rules of the universe is that nothing is perfect. Perfection simply doesn’t exist…..Without imperfection, neither you nor I would exist” ― Stephen Hawking


“One of the basic rules of the universe is that nothing is perfect. Perfection simply doesn’t exist…..Without imperfection, neither you nor I would exist” ― Stephen Hawking

More Shades

At a side table of a water colour and woodcut exhibition I was browsing through paintings for sale when I came across one that intrigued me. It was mainly green, and when I turned it over, the title was “shades of green”.  I naturally had to have it.  As you may remember, my last blog was titled Shades of Green! The painter, Halina Robinson, was one of the first water colour teachers I hired when I became the director of the Art Craft Studio at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario.  She taught adult water colour beginners, intermediate and advanced courses for over 10 years, and was loved by all her students.

  I found out about Halina’s story one day, when my student staff who liked to do pranks greeted me on my birthday with a sign “Perl Harbor was the good news”.  I was born Dec. 7, 1941, Perl Harbor Day, in occupied Transylvania. Being Jewish, was not exactly a formula for a healthy life.  I was not offended, but when Halina saw this, she was furious.  That is when I heard her life story.

Halina Czajkowska Robinson, the daughter of a Catholic Polish military officer, fled her home to Warsaw in 1940 during the Second World War. She attended an underground school, was arrested during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944 with her mother, and survived the Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps. Her many wonderful paintings of children at play attest to her pain of not being able to have her own children, since she was sterilized by the infamous Dr. Mengele. After the liberation of Bergen-Belsen in 1945, she fled to Sweden, where she eventually became a chemical engineer. She moved to Canada in 1951, joining a cancer research lab at Children’s hospital and Western University, where she played a key role in discovering a plant extract’s effectiveness in treating a cancer- childhood leukaemia — which is still used in cancer treatment today.That’s also where she met her husband, Dr James Russell Robinson, Western’s first PhD in chemistry.    

Halina died at age 90 in 2022.  Art curator Moira McKee explains the ‘immense volume’ of hand framed art by Halina Czajkowska Robinson her executors found, to the surprise of her peers.   Throughout her time in Canada while she was making incredible contributions, she was also producing a vast assortment of artwork in her home studio, McKee said.  McKee believes interpersonal relationships and nature were her biggest inspirations in her art, and she explored them in varying ways through the decades, she said. “There’s a real focus on family. For Helena, family mattered a great deal because she nearly lost everything at a particularly challenging period in her life,” she said, noting woodcuts of family seated at the dinner table. Robinson detailed her story in a book called Heaven, Hell and Purgatory: A Canadian Memoir of a Happy Polish Childhood, Nazi Horror and Swedish Refuge. The only thing I am sorry about is that I did not keep in touch with her after I left London, and what a serendipity it was to be back in time to see the amazing work of a true person. The 2 paintings I bought will always remind me that art making is a true balm for the trauma we experienced and allows us to have hope and creativity in all we touch. Halina wanted her works to outlive her, and they certainly will.

Late last Thursday night we receiver a call that Dr. Margot Roach died that morning, Aug. 24. 2023, at age 88. She represents for me a different shade of color for the same era. I met Margot through my husband.  They worked together at the Biophysics Department at Western Ontario University.  Marvin, my husband, and Margot studied together under Dr. Alan Burton, and were among the first people to establish the department. Margot, who was also an MD, was dedicated to her research and to her church and her students and colleges. She was totally married to her work, and we became close.  I remember many gatherings at her home, which was within walking distance to our home and to the university.  Her research, sharp observation and teaching ability led to her becoming the head of the department after Prof. Alan Burton retired. She had a dry sense of humour, perhaps acquired during her stay in Britain. where she became friends with the church organist and his wife and daughter.  After years of friendship, and after his wife died, Franklin St. Alban House of Oxford, England proposed to her.  At the age a few months shy of 60, to everyone’s surprise and delight, she accepted. 

The wedding was at a church, here, in London, Ontario.  She was beaming. Frank captured the hearts of all her friends, and it became clear they loved each other. Wanting to spend more time with her newfound companionship, and suffering some physical health problems with mobility, she decided to take early retirement around the time my husband, Marvin did.  They built a home together on the seashore.  Not a little place, a place that could accommodate his organ and much of her antique furniture left to her from many generations.  They built it on the seashore, in Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia. At the same time, we moved away from London as well, and corresponded with her, let’s say, not too often.  It was a happy and enjoyable time for about 10 years. Frank died of cancer, and Margot stayed alone in the place they built together.

We often wondered why they chose such an out of the way place.  It was not until we finally went there to visit and stay with Margot for a few days that we understood the connection.  Margot’s grandfather was also a physician, as was her father and she herself.  Her grandfather established a hospital in Tatamagouche in the early 1900, and Margot spent many summers there with her grandparents.  She showed us around the town proudly, and we saw the museum dedicated to his work and displaying his old instruments.  He established homes for homeless people, and the name Roach is much revered there.  We could see the pride she felt in every place of the memory lane she took us on .  Margot always remained active, she was researching and writing her family’s history, volunteering with the Hospital Board, and at Sharon United Church.  She had completed her studies for her divinity license and filled in as a Licensed Lay Worship Leader at churches in the area. Her love of religion and interest in many different subjects was developed early in her life.  She spent many hours debating with her grandfather on diverse topics, and it was those debates that helped her to pass easily oral exams and be able to think on her feet. 

Those were precious few days together. When we left, we promised to come back.  Perhaps we will, but Margot will only be there in our memory.  We go through life collecting precious connections with people, places, and enriching our experiences. Even brief encounters enrich and fill our container, our life.  We gain life force and add it to our own.  Each addition changes the substance of our being, leaves traces of experiences to be mixed into our essence. I hope I will never stop seeking new encounters, being curious and wanting to experience new things, and remember.        

— 2023-08-30