The Beauty in Awareness

By Beacon Staff

As the Flathead Valley gets turned pink for breast cancer awareness, an unusual art exhibit seeks to spark additional interest in early detection procedures.

Twenty-seven bras, decorated by local artists, will grace the Hockaday Museum of Art for one week in October. The artsy undergarments range from the comedic to the dramatic, full of sparkles, beads, acrylics, plaster and even some electronic modifications.

“They are whimsical, they’re beautiful, they’re soulful, they’re overwhelming, they’re emotional,” said Susan Kuhlman of the Save A Sister initiative.

The exhibit is part of the “Turn the Flathead Pink” breast cancer awareness drive. Along with support from local businesses and the solidarity of wearing pink on Friday, Oct. 2, the Artful Bra Project will attempt to bring more awareness to the benefits of early detection.

Save A Sister is a collaborative effort between Northwest Healthcare, North Valley Hospital and the Flathead City-County Health Department. The initiative tries to spread breast cancer awareness through pamphlets and other educational activities. With donated funds, together they provide mammograms and post-operative equipment for those who cannot afford it.

Kuhlman said Save A Sister gave out more than 300 vouchers for mammograms last year.

“This is a community effort here in the Flathead Valley,” Kuhlman said, adding that all the money collected through the initiative stays in the local community.

The brassiere artists used various media to create their pieces. Lee Proctor forged a bra he calls “Goddess” from glass in his Bigfork studio. Turquoise stones tie together to make the shoulder straps, and green glass leaves of all shades form the front. A single red piece of sea glass – the heart – hangs from the front clasp.

“I thought a leaf bra would be pretty cool,” Proctor said as he shaped molten glass.

A former metal worker, Proctor created a breast-shaped mold to help form the leaves. He ladled clear molten glass over the mold to create a realistic shape for the glass bra. The leaves, individually crafted, were melded together afterward.

Proctor said he got involved because it is a good cause and he has known many people who have gone through the challenges of breast cancer, with positive and negative outcomes.

Beverly Garcelon knows about fighting the disease and the importance of early detection. Now in her fifth year free of cancer, Garcelon designed a bra with an underwater theme for the Artful Bra Project.

Her work, “Under the C Cup,” is a colorful display of seashells and beading. She said it was inspired by family trips to the beach.

“I love the beach,” Garcelon said. “Those are all shells that either myself or my family members have picked up.”

Another source of inspiration was the aid she received from the county health department after she was diagnosed.

“I know what getting help means,” Garcelon said. “It means a lot.”

Some of the bras, like Garcelon’s, take a fun angle. Others are more serious, like Karen Minton’s “Lillies for Laurie,” a bra transformed into an acrylic painting of white lilies as a tribute to a friend lost to breast cancer.

Katie Brown’s creation, “United Front,” falls in the fun category. She worked on the bra with her friend, Nikkieal Fox, which features one cup dedicated to the University of Montana Grizzlies and the other cup decorated for the Montana State University Bobcats.

“I am a breast cancer survivor; whatever I can do to bring recognition and raise money for early detection I’d love to participate,” Brown said.

The Artful Bra Project will have its official unveiling at the Hockaday Museum of Art on Oct. 4 and run through until Oct. 10. Then the bras will travel the state, raising awareness outside of the Flathead Valley.

Finally, next August, every piece of the collection will be auctioned off at a large fundraising event. All of the funds raised will stay in the Flathead.

“It’s not your normal art show,” Brown said with a laugh.