MONROE—No one expects to wake up one day and discover everything you’ve worked for in life drastically ripped away. A stroke at the age of 36 years old completely derailed Pamela Hedden’s life. An architect, married with children, living in Birmingham, Alabama, at that time, Hedden remained in a coma for eight days. When she emerged from it, she was paralyzed on the right side, unable to speak, talk or walk. She had no understanding of where she was or what happened: in fact, for a long time, she thought she was still 10 years old.
There would be more devastating challenges ahead.
"I lost everything," she said. "My marriage, my kids, my career, and my home."
It’s a story that could have continued to go down a long dark road, but 18 years later, Hedden is sitting in a cozy, shingled house in Monroe, built by her boyfriend, Mark, a tiler, wildlife photographer and potter. She exudes gentle radiance.
"I view myself as having come through this amazing transformation,” she said. “The stroke also caused me to lose vision out of the right side of both eyes, so that has changed my entire perspective. But, when I look in the mirror, all I see is the whole me. I never see the paralyzed me. That vision has carried me so far."
When she got back on that horse again, she literally took the reins. Within three years, she took up horseback riding, learning how to do it with one hand. She even jumped out of a airplane.
“I wanted to be alive again," she said. "I have incredible parents and friends. Their encouragement and help lifted me up and got me walking again. My courageous spirit is how I got through it all. "
She moved from Alabama to Maine in 1999 and revived her career as a residential architect. One day, just taking a walk around the small town of Wayne, where she lived and began to pay close attention to architecture.
"I was just walking around my little town one day and noticing the detail on these little buildings, the General Store, the library. These buildings all had the this unique character. And I began to paint them."
With an architect's analytical precision, she drew the buildings free hand and added watercolor to them. Never formerly trained as a painter, she had to not only teach herself all of the fundamental techniques—but had to do it left handed. A right-handed person all of her life before the paralysis, she worked with a number of physical therapists and slowly, began to gain back motor skills to draw to get the tiny details just right.
"I am so detail oriented, I have to constantly shift my head a certain way to see the right side of the paper," she said.
"As an architect of residential houses for 27 years now, I'd worked with drawings of course, but never with color,” she said. “Getting the detail down on those buildings was an intricate process. Her artwork progressed from buildings to landscapes. "When I do landscapes, they are just an escape," she said. "They are so freeing and simple."
Hedden has put together a compilation of four year’s worth of paintings together for a new show she plans to unveil at the Belfast Co-op, starting January 4 through January 31. The work ranges from buildings to landscapes and seascapes with bright, splashy washes of color.
For Hedden, this feels like a direction she would have never imagined herself on..and a triumph. I don't think I've done my best work yet," she said, smiling.
To learn more about the show visit The Belfast Co-op’s Facebook page.
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org