The Rapidian

Grand Rapids artist Carol Roeda and Mary Free Bed partner for ArtPrize

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Grand Rapids-based artist, Carol Roeda, is exhibiting her ArtPrize entry "Walk With Me" at Mary Free Bed.

Grand Rapids-based artist, Carol Roeda, is exhibiting her ArtPrize entry "Walk With Me" at Mary Free Bed.

Mary Free Bed patient, Kate Clark, painting at Carol Roeda's studio.

Mary Free Bed patient, Kate Clark, painting at Carol Roeda's studio.

Carol Roeda's ArtPrize entry, "Walk With Me."

Carol Roeda's ArtPrize entry, "Walk With Me."

When the ArtPrize® pairing of artists and venues began, Carol Roeda, a Grand Rapids-based artist, and Mary Free Bed wanted a meaningful connection if they were going to participate in the international art competition held in downtown Grand Rapids.

Even before Carol entered her proposal on the ArtPrize website, she knew if she was going to be part of ArtPrize she wanted to be somehow involved with a non-profit organization. Carol’s mission for the art competition is to model a new collaboration concept for ArtPrize: Linking ArtPrize artists with nonprofits to raise awareness and funds for charitable causes.

At Mary Free Bed, when planning for this year’s ArtPrize began, organizers were willing to pass on being a venue if an artist with a tie to the hospital couldn’t be found. The pairing of artist and venue had to be right.

It was a Mary Free Bed patient who brought artist and venue together.

The Meaningful Connection

Kate Clark was paralyzed from the neck down when a first-grader at her son’s school leaped from the top of a slide and crash landed on Kate’s head. As a quadriplegic, Kate’s surgeon told her some progress was possible, but hope was discouraged.

Kate came to Mary Free Bed for her rehabilitation. During that time, Kate held fast to her faith – and, rebelliously, she hoped. She made progress. Her surgeon visited Kate 8-weeks post injury and watched as she stood, unsupported.

Spinal cord injury rehabilitation is a long journey. From the outset of Kate’s injury, it was apparent that her insurance wouldn’t hold out. Enter Carol.

Kate and Carol are fellow church members. When Carol learned of Kate’s family’s financial need to cover her expenses, Carol spoke with Kate about designing a piece of art in Kate’s honor. Proceeds from the sales were donated to Kate’s therapy, medication, and support.

During her rehab, Kate’s favorite phrase was “great is thy faithfulness.” The words were transformed into an artistic magnet that Carol sold at her stores. Community rallied and funds were raised.

Kate recently shared her story here on Mary Free Bed’s Hope Restored blog and with Grand Rapids Press readers. Her story is filled with unwavering faith. For Mary Free Bed, her story is also one of hope and freedom. Today, Kate can walk.

Carol Roeda Creates With Joy

With her big heart and willingness to give, Carol would have fit in well with those first Mary Free Bed Guild members who worked to provide medical care for the city’s poor. Except for the art. As evidenced above, Carol gives through her art.

“I got started with macramé, which dates me all the way back to the early ‘70’s,” Carol said.

Macramé gave way to pottery when the clay beads she was designing and adding to her pieces were bigger than the knots.

The first big art fair Carol attended was the well-known Ann Arbor fair. She arrived on the scene with her husband, Jack, with the goal of selling enough art to pay an adoption fee (her son is now 30!).

Several years later, Carol brought four nativity sets to supplement the functional pottery she sold at her booth. The nativity sets sold in the first hour. She took orders for more.

When Carol returned the following year, with only nativity sets this time, she sold out the first day and she packed up and went home. It was an affirming experience for Carol. She created art that people liked and wanted.

In the years that followed, Carol experimented with different kinds of art, some of which she sold in a store on 29th Street in Grand Rapids where she was part owner. She began designing dancing women and children that were cut from steel and rusted. But because she missed the color so much decided to paint.

“I love to make stuff,” says Carol, “But at bottom, I love color best…where there is color, there is light…. For me, every stroke of color is an act of faith: Darkness will not overcome the light.”

Carol ordered 500 stars to be cut from steel on which she intended to paint. When the order arrived, there were instead 5,000 stars. The error served Carol well and after painting all those stars, her painting abilities much improved.

Additionally, she found ways to put all those stars together: heavy-duty magnets. Using the magnets, Carol layers her painted, steel pieces for a 3-D effect and attaches them to all kinds of things: garden stakes, lamps, tables. She opened for herself all kinds of possibilities.

“Everything is interchangeable,” says Carol. “In the past, people would ask ‘can you do it this way or that way.’ Now the customer has the opportunity to create and have some of the joy I have when I create. So ‘create with joy’ became my mission statement.”

Though her original store on 29th Street is no longer in business, Carol owns 3 other stores – one in Breton Village, one in Ann Arbor, and a newly opened store at Lake Drive and Diamond, next door to Marie Catrib’s. Not only do her stores keep her busy, but Carol also has designed fabrics, gift wares, book covers, and murals.

Walk With Me - Carol’s ArtPrize Inspiration

Carol and her husband took 5 high school seniors on a faith retreat. Before she left for the retreat, she pillaged her store room for some steel pieces and paint to take with her for an art project to work on with the kids. When they arrived at the Lake Michigan cottage where they stayed, she instructed the students to paint as many pieces as they liked.

“The point of the whole exercise is that what we do in this life, God is going to use in ways we can’t imagine,” Carol said. “Someday there will be an unveiling, and we will be surprised to see how God used our efforts in His plan.”

That night, as the students slept, Carol began stacking the pieces of painted steel. In the morning, she took each student outside one by one. She had the students screw into place on a tree a piece of steel, then told them to stack the pieces with the magnets as she had the night before. Soon, an 8-foot totem was created.

On the way home from the retreat, the students encouraged Carol to do something similar for ArtPrize. With a lot of “wild” ideas in her head, Carol actually went to the Blue Bridge in downtown Grand Rapids and built a totem when no one was looking. She took some pictures and submitted them with her online ArtPrize proposal.

Her entry, Walk With Me, is 7 totems that will be on display outside of Mary Free Bed near the hospital’s therapy path (near the sculpture Rain, last year’s ArtPrize entry that was purchased by the Mary Free Bed Guild).

Carol’s idea is that she will walk alongside Mary Free Bed to raise awareness and even funds. During certain hours of ArtPrize, people can purchase Carol’s designs of the words “hope," “freedom,” and the symbol for female (because the hospital was started by women). A percentage of the proceeds will be donated to Mary Free Bed. And, should Carol be a winner in this year’s ArtPrize, she intends to share the prize money with the hospital.

Just as Carol worked with the high school students, she wanted Mary Free Bed’s patients to be involved with the creation of Walk With Me. She came to the hospital in August to work with patients on the steel pieces that make up the totems.

“Working with the patients was a wonderful experience,” Carol reported. “People were excited to participate. Each one had something unique to contribute, and they all shared their stories. I get so much joy out of creating when others add their voices, and it’s another kind of joy when the work lifts the spirits or financial needs of others.”

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