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Tribal members paint their stress away on every reservation

BIG CYPRESS — Everyone may not be as gifted as Leonardo Da Vinci, Vincent Van Gogh or Pablo Picasso but every individual can reap the stress relieving benefits of putting paint on canvas.

Tribal members created their own masterpieces as they participated in Paint Your Stress Away events, sponsored by the Integrated Health department tribalwide in May and June.

“Stress is more than just a feeling of being overwhelmed, it’s a physical and chemical reaction our bodies have,” said Lauren Goas, health educator. “If we don’t take care of the ongoing stress in our lives it can literally make us sick.”

Budding Big Cypress artists paint the background colors on their canvases during the Paint Your Stress Away event in BC on May 29. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

The workshops, most of which took place during National Stroke Awareness Month in May, included some education about how to recognize signs of a stroke in progress. Before the paints and canvases were given out in Big Cypress on May 29, health educator Jamie Diersing gave Tribal members some tips on spotting signs of a stroke.

“Remember the acronym FAST- Face drooping, Arms weak, Speaking trouble, Time to call 911,” Diersing said. “There may also be some numbness in the legs, confusion, trouble walking, balancing, seeing and possibly a severe headache. Call Fire Rescue and have them come out.”

Artist April Kirk taught the groups how to paint their versions of a painting she brought called “Cypress Trees,” which depicted some trees in the swamp. The idea of the painting party was to relax and have a good time.

“Use this as an inspiration, yours doesn’t have to look like this one,” Kirk said. “There is one rule; you aren’t allowed to look at the person’s painting next to you and say ‘yours looks better than mine.’ The only real decision you have to make is what colors you want to use.”

Jenny Johns and Molly Shore try to paint their stress away in Brighton. (Courtesy photo)

With that, the budding artists chose paints for their palettes and got to work. Backgrounds were painted first; some were colorful, others monochromatic.

When the backgrounds were finished, they dried the paint with a hairdryer and began creating their subject image over it.

Most used the cypress trees as inspiration, but others did their own things. Louise Osceola painted a horse on her pastel background because she used to ride as a girl. Celeste Billie created a stylized sun surrounded by trees.

“I wanted to do an abstract background,” said Edna McDuffie about her colorful background of blues, greens and purples. “I love these colors; they just came together for me. We’ll see how it turns out.”

Celeste Billie and Jacob Osceola create their masterpieces in Big Cypress. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

As people painted, Kirk helped them bring their canvasses to life with guidance and helpful hints about painting.

She let each painter figure out what they would do next by serving as a sounding board.

“Take a break,” Kirk told one painter who appeared stuck. “Walk away from it and refresh your eyes.”

The day was the perfect antidote to stress as participants put their minds to the images in front of them and not much else.

“Painting is fun and they get to take something home at the end of the day,” Goas said. “It’s a real stress reliever. Health isn’t only about eating and exercise; it’s about taking care of ourselves from the inside.”

Sheila Aguilar and Michelle Ford display their completed stress-free paintings. (Courtesy photo)

Left unchecked, stress can cause a multitude of illnesses including an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, depression and more.

“There are so many different and unique ways to relax and painting is one,” Goas said. “We are teaching the community how essential stress management is to being healthy and encouraging every person – no matter how busy – to take time out for themselves.”

Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at