Diagnosing Niki Tamminga with systemic, soft-tissue sarcoma, doctors predicted the 36-year-old mother of two young children would live just two more years.
Tamminga underwent chemotherapy and surgeries but knew healing takes myriad forms, not solely within the physical body.
"Your body is affected by your mental and spiritual state," Tamminga says. "I was using a multifaceted approach to dealing with my cancer."
Often interpreted as multifaceted, mandalas appealed to Tamminga, who took a class in the art of creating abstract circles, many of which hold centuries-old religious significance. The mandala, she says, can be seen everywhere in nature, from the tiniest cells to titanic galaxies.
Thirteen years after her first class, the 49-year-old Ashland resident has drawn and painted more than 100 mandalas and acquainted other cancer patients with the process, traditionally used for meditation.
"You stop time," Tamminga says. "You don't think about the past. You don't think about the future. You don't think about fear; you don't think about cancer."
Sarcoma cost Tamminga her left arm in 2001, but her cancer has since been in remission. Her mandalas, most sold as prints and greeting cards, are an "affirmation of life."
"It was a very important part of my healing process."
"The Healing Power of Mandala Art" will be portrayed in the work of a dozen artists on display in Medford and Ashland from March through October. In many cases a testament to the artists' healing, the series of shows is intended to comfort and heal its viewers, as well, says producer and exhibiting artist Betsy Lewis.
"There's something magical about a circle — something inherently significant to human beings," Lewis says, adding that the Sanskrit word mandala means "sacred circle."
While classic mandalas are symmetric and composed of geometric shapes, Lewis' are asymmetric and contain organic lines that mark faint patterns or diverge at total random. When she first started drawing mandalas five years ago as a form of therapy, Lewis resisted the confines of a circle.
"Mandala work is really a deep psychological thing," says the 53-year-old Medford resident. "It just comes out, and it's so revealing."
Mandalas may reveal something different to the viewer than the artist intended, says Janet London, who teaches local mandala workshops. It was one of these workshops that introduced Lewis to mandalas and also encouraged her to heal from a divorce and severe depression.
"I was heavily medicated; that was part of the problem," Lewis says.
Delicate and tentative with a pattern of hearts inside — and outside — a 6-inch circle, Lewis' first mandala was as fragile as her emotions. Inspired by the initial outcome, however, Lewis started filling sketch books with circles traced around a big bowl, one-dimensional vessels for her black and white drawings. Less than a year ago, she started coloring her mandalas with art markers.
"They've gotten bigger and louder," she says. "I just listened to my inner wisdom."
When London asked whether she could use some of Lewis' mandalas in a workshop, Lewis decided to share them with other would-be artists and anyone intrigued by mandalas. She reproduced 15 of her black-and-white mandalas on 81/2;-by-11-inch paper and packaged them for sale. With titles like "Joy," "Truth," "Strength," "Anticipation" and "Blessings," the mandalas can be purchased for $14.95 from Lewis' Web site, www.arteventproductions.com, or at Rogue Gallery and Art Center in Medford.
"People used them and got great benefit out of them," Lewis says.
Although line drawings like hers can help novice artists feel at ease with the form of mandalas, Lewis urges people to "just go for it." Any medium will do, even pencils and crayons. Dashing, dotting, doodling, scribbling or squiggling are all fine techniques.
"It's not about creating something that's beautiful to the rest of the world; it's only about what it means to you," Lewis says.
"You don't even need to pay a therapist to do it."