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‘You paint anyway’: Woman putting on art show despite losing sight

<i>WXMI via CNN Newsource</i><br/>Legally blind in both eyes
WXMI via CNN Newsource
Legally blind in both eyes

By Sam Landstra

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    GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan (WXMI) — Nearly completely deaf, Ludwig van Beethoven composed his Ninth Symphony.

Legally blind in both eyes, Nancy Lee, too, has not let physical limitation diminish her artistry, painting lush landscapes and garden scenes soon to be on public display at her Grand Rapids retirement home.

“There are so many people that have something happen in their life,” Lee said in an Wednesday interview with FOX 17. “They think that’s the end. For me, it was the beginning of something new.”

Around ten years ago, Lee was diagnosed with wet macular degeneration, a long-lasting disorder that affects the central vision.

“I’d consider her [case] as more advanced,” said Parin Gohel, MD. “Even with the best treatment, she can still lose vision.”

During a routine appointment with Gohel at Grand Rapids Opthalmology, Lee told her longtime eye doctor that she planned to put down the paint brush. Gohel wouldn’t let her passion pass away so easily.

“I told her, ‘Don’t stop this. It brings you happiness and joy. Just keep doing it,” Gohel said.

An artist “from her earliest memory,” Lee studied painting at the Smithsonian. In her sixties at the time, she worked as a copyist, replicating the works of the masters, many of which now hang in the halls of hospitals and universities.

Now sitting in her “studio” at Marsh Ridge Apartments, a retirement community in Grand Rapids, painting looks different for Lee. She paints “what’s in my head,” seeing instead with her mind’s eye. The works laying before her are products of peripheral vision and well-trained muscle memory.

“Oh, I think I’m going to try hydrangeas,” said Lee, recalling one of the first paintings post vision-loss. “I say, as I have done with many of my paintings, what do you see?”

They looked like hydrangeas, her friend said.

“I am so glad,” Lee said. “Somebody realizes what that is. That’s so rewarding.”

The New Art of Nancy Lee, the official title for her art show, features her “new zest for life” in the form of florals, landscapes, and English garden scenes.

They’re works of faith, too, she says.

“I know my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I have known him for many years,” Lee said. “He is the one that has given me the talent, given me the courage.”

The paintings are proof, too, that she still sees beauty, feels it in her bones.

“I would encourage everybody who is losing their eyesight: Remember, you haven’t lost you mind,” Lee said.

The New Art of Nancy Lee will be on display at 510 Marsh Ridge Dr. NW in Grand Rapids, Michigan on Thursday, June 20 from 2:00pm to 7:00pm. A number of paintings will be available for purchase. Lee, 87, thanks her friends, Martha and Rose, and her brother-in-law, Peter, for their roles in the art show.

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