Multiple sclerosis fuels Creston artist’s inspiration and determination

Web Lead

  • Jul. 14, 2012 10:00 a.m.
Lori Wikdahl of Creston's Shelf Life creates unique stone art.

Lori Wikdahl of Creston's Shelf Life creates unique stone art.

If it is true that people are more than the sum of their parts, it must also be true that Creston’s Lori Wikdahl is a giant.

A grandmother, Wikdahl has become a driving force in the Creston Valley’s art scene, despite the fact that she only started painting in 2009.

“Other than drawing stick people for my kids I didn’t have an artistic bone in my body,” says Wikdahl (who writes a monthly column, A Cultural Perspective, for the Advance).

Then, in an unexpected twist, she attributes her drive and new-found creativity to illness.

“It’ funny, but I really do owe it all to multiple sclerosis,” she smiles. “I mean I hate having MS, but…”

Her thoughts drift back to 2002 when she was first attacked by the disease. She became bedridden and her life as a healthy, professional woman came to a screeching halt. The ambition and materialism that had once fueled Wikdahl had to be reassessed.

“Life is not a paycheque. Life is not a job. Life is living,” she says. “I owe that knowledge to MS. And I have learned that you can take the disability out of the disease.”

One of her first decisions in her new life was to remain as active as humanly possible. She set a goal — walk the distance of the earth’s circumference, 40,000 km in 10 years.

In 2003, she took one giant step, or hundreds of thousands of small steps, depending on one’s point of view, toward that goal.

“In 287 days, I walked across Canada from Confederation Bridge to English Bay,” she says. “I’m the only woman to do that. I walked through the Rockies in the winter, averaging 22 kilometres a day.”

Health setbacks made it impossible for her to accomplish her original goal in 10 years. She was about 2,000 km short when the calendar indicated that a decade had passed.

“I’ll do it this year, though,” she says, in a tone that leaves no room for doubt.

Wikdahl’s first foray into the art world came when she was inspired to paint contemporary native designs on rocks.

“I have always loved native designs and I felt fulfilled with what I was doing,” she says. “But then two years ago, my son turned 30 and he wanted me to make him a painting. But he said he wanted something different, with lots of colours.

“So I did him an Aztec calendar. And I was so enamoured with it that I started thinking, ‘What else can I do?’”

With no artistic background at all, Wikdahl hadn’t painted herself into a corner and she dove into style after style, embracing some and abandoning others, but always learning lots on her journey.

“I’ve done abstract styles and Impressionist styles and Mayan styles,” she says. “I have taught myself Chinese watercolour painting and now I am doing Japanese ink painting — with each new style I take on I learn as much about life as about art.”

Wikdahl studied history in university, even doing a summer stint at Oxford University in England.

“My fascination with history makes me want to learn about everything around the style of art that I am working on at the time,” she says.

So she haunts the public library and the Internet, delving as deeply as she can into each topic.

This past winter has been a tough one, she admits. One of the side effects to her MS is depression.

“It can be hard because the MS and depression drain the energy away from me, and you need energy to be creative.”

Her 11-year-old autistic grandson lives with her and there are times, especially when the days are short and dreary, when he and her dogs take up all of her energy. But even some of the side effects of MS have a positive aspect.

“In the last few months my hands have been shaking really badly,” she says.

But her friend, artist Val van der Poel, gave her some ink pens.

“It’s amazing what you can do with a pen and shaky hands,” Wikdahl smiles. “That’s why I’ve moved into oriental styles. …

“I’m hungry when it comes to art — I want to know all I can. I just want to know ‘How do you do that?’ and I learn from other artists or from books.”

While her preferred “canvas” is a rock, she can’t just pick up a rock and start painting.

“If I try to just put an image on a stone it never works,” she says. “But if I see something on the stone, I can work to bring it out in an image. It’s like the stones talk to me.”

Wikdahl’s artwork will be on sale and display at the Creston Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Creston Valley Advance throughout the summer months.