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Unbreakable heart

-  Creating glass art fills Rockwood-area woman with hope of survival


After surviving breast cancer and battling ongoing heart problems, Rockwood-area resident Shawna Hovey lays a path to healing in glass art.

Hovey will present work for a third time as part of the Gathering of the Guilds art show and sale Friday through Sunday, April 26-28, at the Oregon Convention Center. Her work will be in the event’s Glass Gallery exhibit.

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Artist Shawna Hovey of Southeast Portland composes an ocean scene for her glass art collection on display this weekend at the Oregon Convention Center's Gathering of the Guilds. Many who see Hovey’s glass work for the first time, for example her sparkling flower pendants or plates sculpted with multicolored mountains and whimsical underwater gardens, say they’ve never seen anything like it.

Alive with color, they embellish a beauty perhaps only a bout with death could realize.

“Beauty is everywhere, and overflowing,” said Hovey, “We just have to look and see.”

The odds have been stacked against Hovey, a former secretary of Fir Ridge Campus alternative high school, since she was diagnosed with cancer in the summer of 2004. After undergoing six months of chemotherapy, Hovey came out cancer-free, but the following spring, she was back in the hospital with heart failure.

“Life wasn’t looking promising,” said Hovey, a native Oregonian. Her heart’s failure to pump blood and oxygen to her body and brain devastated her health. She lost energy and the ability to think, walk and interact.

But in the face of adversity, she found an unlikely cure.

One fall day in 2007, her heart slowly regaining function, Hovey turned into a glass shop on a whim and decided to take a two-night art class in dichroic glass, glass made from multiple layers of ultra-thin metals or oxides that transmit and shift an array of colors depending on the angle of view.

Hovey got hooked. She reignited a lust for creativity nurtured in her youth but lost in her busy and stressful adult life.

“Creativity had all but died prior to cancer, but came flooding back, giving me an insatiable appetite for color and design like I had never known,” she said.

Glass making, Hovey said, filled her with joy and helped her rediscover life and the beauty in it. In turn, her health improved.

Hovey says she’s always been an artist at heart, but only recently called herself one.

Her creativity budded at 9 years old when she learned to sew. As a young girl, she started making simple clothing, designing her first dress by drawing her body on newspaper to fashion a pattern.

As she got older, her skills blossomed into a variety of textile arts such as quilting and machine embroidery until she eventually was costuming bridal sets and her own family’s clothing.

“There wasn’t an area that I was afraid to conquer,” she said. “I thought I’d never see the day that I would not sew.”

But life had other plans. Hovey took a job as a school secretary, which she says took over her life. For 14 years, she felt overworked, overstressed and unable to say no, as though she were running on a hamster wheel and unable to get off. Meanwhile, sewing and woodworking, a second hobby she had picked up, faded into history.

Breast cancer and beating it marked a new beginning in her life. “Glass, with its intense beauty, enlivens my senses and feeds my soul,” she said.

Her outlook changed. “I felt much like a caterpillar being enveloped by its chrysalis — cells disassembling and reassembling into a beautiful butterfly,” she said.

Hovey’s glass work has evolved from her Floral Fantasy series, brilliant hand-sculpted flower bouquet pendants, to her Ice Sculpture and Ocean and Mountain series, larger sculpted plates fired in a modest kiln she keeps in her kitchen.

With each piece of glass, hand cut and composed to precision, the artist says her goal is to create exquisite pieces that spark passion, excitement and awe for the beholder.

Hovey says her journey of healing and transformation was truly a gift. “I now live life with greater joy than ever before,” she said.

But in August, finally feeling like her health was nearing 100 percent, Hovey’s heart took a turn for the worse, sending her health spiraling downward once again.

Hovey stopped creating glass art. “It kind of blindsided me,” she said. Six months passed before she remembered her own advice: Look for the silver lining. Change the way you think.

“I’ve healed before when the odds were against me, I can do it again,” said Hovey, who now works part-time in a less stressful kitchen job for the Centennial School District.

For the Glass Gallery show, Hovey brings her latest glass works: hand-made beads, vintage-inspired pendants and wire-wrapped bracelets. “Creating with glass, once again, has come to my rescue and set me on a path of healing,” she said.

“If I’m not being creative, it’s like a little bit of me is dying. It breathes life into me.”




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