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Waterford woman rediscovers passion for art after illness

By Carol Steedman

Gale Lemery, pictured in a file photo with her daughter Chrystal Lemery, turned to her love of art following a bout with a serious illness three years ago.

Gale Lemery, pictured in a file photo with her daughter Chrystal Lemery, turned to her love of art following a bout with a serious illness three years ago.

Local artist Gale Lemery is busy creating beautiful sculptures from hardened fabric for her art exhibition and sale in a couple of weeks.

It's been a long, challenging road for this accomplished artist.

Over the years, Lemery was known for her watercolour paintings, pen and ink sketches and notecards but following a serious illness three years ago, she moved into creating pieces with wire, hardening medium and fabric.

In their family farm home south of Villa Nova, Lemery works in a main floor studio. Her art pieces overflow into the living room and kitchen with sculptures varying in size from 30 centimetres to almost a metre in height.

Lemery says her husband, Neil, who runs the farm, is fine with living amongst the artworks and even helps with the base for a sculpture on occasion.

Gale's skill in capturing a parent holding a child or a couple dancing makes her sculptures seem ready to start moving at any moment. Her work includes garden herons and crows that can withstand the outdoor elements. The hardened fabric is painted to resemble weathered metal, and with a wing raised to preen feathers, the heron looks realistic among garden lilies and grasses.

I first met Gale at The Cafe at Auty and Main streets. The restaurant was once owned by the Lemery family and the family farm supplied the restaurant's hormone-free beef. The couple's daughters, Chrystal and Tenneil, worked at the restaurant in their teens, and Chrystal continued to help run it.

It had been a successful restaurant for more than 20 years, when a sudden event turned the Lemery family's lives upside down.

Three years ago this summer, Gale and Neil sat outdoors on an August evening. Gale was usually vigilant about using mosquito spray but had forgotten. She was startled by a mosquito bite that bled. She forgot about the bite, but found that as the summer wore on, she felt more tired.

Early one September morning, Neil received a call asking if Gale was going to be late opening the cafe that morning. When Neil checked on her, he found her still in bed and couldn't wake her.

At first diagnosed as a stroke, Gale was in a coma for six days. She was hallucinating and among other strange changes, her brain was swelling. Over the next few days a number of tests eliminated stroke and other possibilities.

A Hamilton General Hospital neurologist asked if they had been to another country or a beach, and Gale remembered the mosquito bite. Her condition was finally diagnosed as western equine encephalitis, which is a virus spread by an infected mosquito. The mosquitoes normally bite horses, and while there is a vaccine for horses, there is no vaccine for humans.

The doctor explained that as the brain swells and there's no place to expand in the skull, the cells short circuit and various parts of the brain are affected. In Gale's case, her language and motor skills were affected. The doctor said it was also like having a concussion, and it would take about two years to recover.

Chrystal often took her mother swimming, which she had to relearn. Her brain now had to work hard to rewire itself. Difficulty with memory, walking and extreme tiredness were only a few of the many changes. She gradually regained some abilities, and though the family tried to continue with the restaurant, it became clear that it was impossible.

Now at home full time, Gale's family and friends encouraged her to work at her painting and sketches. She again found her love of art, and with her daily rehabilitation exercises, Gale continued to improve over the next year.

In the fall of 2013, her neighbour and longtime friend, Judy Chambers, suggested that Gale bring her artwork to the annual sale at Chambers Pancake House, which was part of the local Christmas tour weekend for local artists. It was a successful event for everyone, and Gale was starting her artistic comeback.

Through 2014 she continued to establish herself as an artist, and ventured into learning about fabric sculpture and now her original pieces are in demand.

Gale is vibrant and active these days and delights in her children and grandchildren. She is always busy, but paces herself so she doesn't get too tired. She said she's still dealing with other long term effects of the virus and warns people of the danger of mosquito bites, which can result in western equine virus and West Nile virus.

Gale hopes that her Visual Art and Fabric Sculpting exhibition and sale will bring former customers, friends and newcomers interested in her artistic work to their farm for a visit on the weekend of July 25-26 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The sale will be held in the garden of house No. 1462 Concession 11, south of Villa Nova. For more directions or information phone 519-443-5586.

Our Town is an Expositor feature that presents news and views from communities in our area. Carol Steedman is a freelance writer who lives in Waterford. She may be reached at goffsteedman@execulink.com.