Mixed-Media: Artwork as Therapy

Linda Edkins Wyatt said that making art has helped her overcome a debilitating panic disorder. Carrie Ann Salvi

   Although art therapy is a well-known professional practice, a Sag Harbor woman who suffered for more than a decade from a panic disorder has discovered that art can be self-healing.
     Linda Edkins Wyatt, a mixed-media artist, paints, does collage, and makes jewelry and decorative boxes, among other artwork. But her art quilts have gained the most attention. “The Eye of Panic,” for example, a mixed-media quilt, was recognized in the magazine Machine Quilting Unlimited and also in a book by Karen Musgrave, “Quilts in the Attic.”
    The severity of Ms. Wyatt’s symptoms, including claustrophobia, terror, and the inability to swallow, was so disruptive that her family moved from New York to the East End about 13 years ago.
    Turning to art as therapy arose during a harsh panic attack, when Ms. Wyatt’s husband, Hugh, and daughter, Amanda, were trying to help by playing soft music and cooling her with ice. Amanda, who was about 10 at the time, asked if her mother wanted to draw and gave her some crayons and paper. By focusing her energy on the paper, the lines, and colors, Ms. Wyatt felt her panic energy was given a way out.
    Two of her quilts, exhibited in a show called Sacred Threads this summer outside Washington, D.C., reflect Ms. Wyatt’s belief that many women have deep internal sadness. In an interview on Saturday, she spoke of “the “loss of loved ones, unfulfilled dreams, unspoken words, and buried emotions.”
    “Broken Chakra Girl” was created based on Ms. Wyatt’s study of Reiki, which, she said, treats the body’s energy centers. The quilt illustrates throat constriction, with an elongated neck wrapped in a ribbon-like bandage, and a broken heart. After consulting with a Reiki master while studying the technique, Ms. Wyatt was told that energy was trapped in her throat, which, she now thinks is the reason she has trouble swallowing.
    In an article in the magazine Cloth, Paper, Scissors, Ms. Wyatt wrote, “Due to the side effects of a medication, I couldn’t sleep, even if I swam laps 30 or 40 minutes a day. My hair started turning green from the chlorine, so I made my hair yellowish green in the portrait. Dark circles under my eyes expressed the exhaustion and sleeplessness. I called it my ‘Panic Portrait.’ ” With the idea that many women hide their feelings and put on a happy face for the world, she embellished it, and made an art quilt called “Picasso Self-Portrait.”
    When she is not quilting, or doing virtual quilting, Ms. Wyatt said she draws and doodles to help release trapped energy. She has learned to express anger with a crayon or the stroke of a brush, she said, or check in introspectively through self-portraits, some of which she calls ugly. “I made the painting look the way I felt,” she said of one of them.
    With education and experience in textile design, and a lifelong love of sewing, Ms. Wyatt’s artwork uses a multitude of styles and materials, including paintings sewn into collages, and family photographs embellished with various substances and colors, such as shells and beach glass. She does collages as covers for journals, then fills the pages with doodles, snippets of poems she finds inspirational, and unusual color combination. She makes jewelry and wore one piece, with stones and home-baked beads rolled with recycled paper, on Saturday.
    Ms. Wyatt also enjoys incorporating her doodles with recycled materials. The inside of a Federal Express cushioned envelope is a favorite. Other items have recently included netting from a bag of oranges, recycled newspaper clippings, and beet juice left over from dinner. She also uses colored or photographic paper for decorative cards, which she trades with other artists or sometimes sells. Her decorative boxes have been sold at museums, such as the Whitney Museum of American Art.
     Ms. Wyatt participates in a fabric postcard exchange group, using the mail. She finds it exciting to check the mailbox to see what art may be awaiting her, she said. A series of her 4-inch-by-6-inch postcards titled “Pseudo Self-portraits,” have been chosen for publication.
    Ms. Wyatt said the healing process has helped her to be more in tune with her body and aware of stress triggers. Once recognized, she stops what she is doing and does some deep breathing. Finding time to do a little of what she calls scribbling every day calms her and keeps the panic from erupting. She thinks that women, especially, need to let out what they suppress and worry about. With the pressures to be sexy, pretty, and accomplished, they often take care of themselves last, she said.
    Due to the competitive nature of the art world, Ms. Wyatt said she had pulled back from shows. She also has trouble parting with her work. “It’s the doing,” she said, “even if what you make is terrible and ugly, it is still healing to do something every day.”