by Mark Neuherz
It was in 2008 that my story with colored pencils began. After 21 years of doing precision cutting and measuring of materials, I lost my job due to the recession. I had developed an eye-to-hand skill that uniquely adapted well to using colored pencils. Reflecting back, my faith, my health, and my art all contribute to who I am today. Shortly after I was laid off, my wife and I visited Calvary U.M.C. in the Northside of Pittsburgh, PA. The church hosts 189 original Tiffany windows. Not only were the windows impressive, but the sermon the Reverend preached that day struck me. “What has God called you to be? What is your special gift?” That question resonated with me. Although my wife and I didn’t go looking for a church, the church found us.
My artistic journey seemed to be going forward at that time. I had been accepted as a member in the two major art groups in Pittsburgh, I joined the CPSA, I was showing my work in galleries, and I had been written about favorably in the paper. In 2016, I hit that “bump in the road” which was more like a head-on collision. After a routine physical examination and subsequent tests, I was diagnosed with metastatic cancer. I was told that surgery was not an option and chemotherapy and radiation were my best chance of survival. I knew at that point I had to make a game plan to get through this.
I didn’t put my condition on any social media platforms. I wanted my artwork to be judged for its merit and not for sympathy. I researched how other cancer patients survived and I knew I had to have a discipline to keep me going. Working with colored pencils was my choice. My faith in God in concert with medicine and keeping a strong mental attitude was my best course of action. The question of “What is the gift God gave to you?” kept coming to mind and the only answer I could come up with is “God has brought me to this point and has never abandoned me, and never will.” I was determined to survive.
“I didn’t put my condition on any social media platforms. I wanted my artwork to be judged for its merit and not for sympathy.”
There is no “treat” in a chemotherapy treatment. Mine lasted 8 hours every month for six months. They made me sick, without going into many details. Three pieces of artwork stick out in my mind as being significant for that time.
Mist at Upper Pine Bottom - 8 1/2" x 11"
The first is Mist at Upper Pine Bottom. There is a term known as brain fog when undergoing treatments, and this expressed my mental state. The mist reflected the fog I was in and the churning water of the stream became a metaphor for what was going on in my mind. In that drawing I had expressed the swirling patterns of incomplete thoughts, frustration, hope, and beauty taking place in my mind. Every branch, rock, sunbeam, current, and detail became a gestalt for me. Every little part was as important as the next. I have been told by many people that my style is unique and maybe it is, but when I finished this piece, it just looked right to me.
Wish You Were Hair - 8 1/2" x 11"
The second piece occurred when I lost all of my hair except my eyebrows. I knew it was coming with chemo, but as much as I prepared for it, I wasn’t. I had hit the bottom as I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror. And then a strange thing occurred — I laughed. Behind me, reflected in the mirror were houseplants framed around my bald head. I thought to myself, “Wish you were hair…” I laughed so hard at the absurdity of it that I had to do a self-portrait. It was a game changer being able to laugh at cancer and it set me on a healing path. Wish You Were Hair was juried into the CPSA’s Explore This! 14 and was published in To the Point magazine. With exposure from the magazine my portrait was purchased by a private buyer and has been placed in Clarion Hospital Cancer Center. My artwork as well as my story is hanging there to give hope and inspiration to all the cancer patients. God works in mysterious ways, but I never saw that coming!
Tiffany's Resurrection Window at Calvary U.M.C. - 8 1/2" x 11"
I have been very fortunate through my ordeal with cancer. I didn’t get overly sick with my treatments, I’ve maintained my weight and I’m able to hike trails most every night. I am almost back to normal and I wanted to give back to my maker. Sitting in church I reflected on the thought of “What has God called you to do? What is your special gift?” As I sat there, the sunshine showed through the stained-glass and I had an answer. After talking to Reverend and getting permission, I have embarked on doing colored pencil pieces of the Tiffany windows. So why not just take pictures of the windows and put them on social media? I believe people pay more attention to my colored pencil work than to a photograph. I also make each piece slightly different than the window — as seen in Tiffany’s Resurrection Window at Calvary UMC where I illuminated 13 of the horizontal glass supports to give the piece a more painterly effect.
“Reflecting back, my faith, my health, and my art all contribute to who I am today.”
Why am I writing this story now? First of all, I am finally in remission and I feel more comfortable talking about it. I wasn’t given a book on how to deal with what I am going through, and if this article helps just one person, then it has fulfilled its purpose.
When I ask myself, “What has God called you to be?” I don’t know for certain but I think I’m on the right path.
About Mark Neuherz:
Mark Neuherz is a member of:
Colored Pencil Society of America
Associated Artists of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh Society of Artists
Published work includes:
Ann Kullburg's C.P. Hidden Treasures Vol. 3, C.P. Treasures volumes 5, 6, 7
CPSA To the Point
Explore This! 14
International Exhibition 2020