’Burg artist keeps on going despite COVID, tumour and epilepsy

·4 min read

“I was always an introvert and always feel awkward and have a hard time expressing myself,” said Wallaceburg artist Rebecca Hunter who is slowly making a name and a brand for herself.

Having grand mal seizures due to epilepsy, Hunter was forced to spend her adolescent years in the art room of her high school painting and sculpting. That didn’t help her come out of her shell all that much.

“I really closed in on myself,” she said.

Hunter had always been a right-brained child even when she was a little kid playing with art supplies and making up stories for all the different flowers in her dad’s garden.

At 11, she was diagnosed with epilepsy (seizures of the brain) after people mistook her for just being “spacey.”

Back in elementary school she would have about 50 petit mal seizures (staring into blank space), lasting about 20 seconds each, per day. She was too young for medicine so her friends had to constantly watch her. Only her best friend and a boy by the name of Nick, who is now her husband, knew of her condition. She hid it from the other kids so they wouldn’t think she was strange.

Then the more intense seizures came on.

“For me, I take a long time afterward to come back from a seizure – 15 minutes before I wake up. And there’s a period of time when I don’t even know who anyone is and I feel scared. I then have a horrible headache and bite my tongue and that pain can last up to three days,” Hunter said.

Most of Hunter's seizures are brought on by good stresses and bad stresses. The heightened emotions are what push the brain over the edge.

And Hunter had her fair share of stresses. Good ones. She picked up everything as her and her now-husband drove across the country as she wrote poetry. And bad ones, from the brain tumour Nick lived with for years, forcing them to live in isolation to prevent infection to being forced back into isolation less than a year later when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

But Hunter is managing it all and is making a homegrown art brand, Little Miss Introvert Expressions, all by herself, with the support of her family.

“Art is a way to take what I was dealing with and get it out. And the more I can do that, the less stress builds up on top of me. So it kind of is a way to relax. To take some of the things I don't know how to say and put them on paper. Some of the emotions I feel I now draw into some of my girls.”

Hunter's studio room, filled with baskets of art and handmade cards, has walls decorated in various watercolour paintings of women in different moods. She also works in sculpture, oils, acrylics, and illustrating children’s books.

Hunter's work went on sale this week at the Art and Heirloom Shoppe on 137 King St. West, where 50 local artists are displayed. She also recently upgraded her website to accommodate online sales for shipping or curbside pickup.

Despite the fact that Nick is unable to work due to his recovery process and the pandemic restrictions, Hunter is thriving in her business and as the breadwinner for the family.

But Hunter’s artistic entrepreneurial spirit was not a straight road. She temporarily gave up the thing she loved during her road tripping adventures, got married in 2014 and a year later Nick got diagnosed with his tumour.

“It was pretty much just get by day to day. And I wanted to do my arts. It was an outlet that I felt I needed, but I just couldn't get there, because there was so much going on,” she said.

All the while Hunter was only painting in her head.

One day she came across an app that urged users to make a drawing a day based on a word. She made an acorn out of puzzle pieces.

The response from the community was so motivating that she finally moved her paintings from head to hand to paper.

“Getting myself to feel like I was proud of what I was doing and then building up that confidence has been what's helped me be able to talk to people when they want to make an order or when they're asking questions. And so, I work regularly on building my confidence. A lot of it is just repeating it.”

Whenever Hunter gets frustrated, she says she just throws her paint. And sometimes it turns out beautiful.

Jenna Cocullo, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chatham Voice