Finding Happiness in Art

Bigfork artist and suicide prevention advocate opens show about yearlong gratitude journaling project

By Justin Franz

A local artist is showcasing a year’s worth of work at a Bigfork gallery in an effort to raise awareness about suicide and depression.

The opening of Debi Strong’s 365 Days of Gratitude at the Bigfork Museum of Art coincides with the beginning of Suicide Prevention Week. The show officially opened on Sept. 4 and runs though Sept. 26.

In 2012, Strong tried to commit suicide by taking a handful of prescription narcotics. She survived the incident, recovered from her deep depression and since then has become a prominent voice in the local battle against suicide.

Between 1997 and 2011, 230 people took their own lives in Flathead County and it is the sixth leading cause of death here. Flathead County’s suicide rate is twice the national average, according to local officials.

Strong leads a weekly group therapy session at Kalispell Regional Medical Center’s Pathways Treatment Center. She said the sessions are important because they help erase the stigma of depression.

While being an advocate for suicide awareness is now a big part of her life, Strong is also an artist who works primarily in mixed media. In 2013, after taking a journaling course, Strong decided to start a yearlong art journal based on a daily quote from Gratefulness.org. Strong started on Thanksgiving Day and gave herself some stringent rules. Among her self-imposed regulations was that she had to create at least one piece of art every day and that she could never rip a page out.

“I never knew what the quote would be ahead of time and it was always gone the next day so I always had to complete the piece that day,” she said. “About three weeks into it I was thinking, ‘what the heck am I doing,’ but I hunkered down and got it done.”

A year later, Strong had filled five and a half 5-by-7 inch journals. Each page, front and back, has a piece of art inspired by the daily quote. Some days featured pen and ink drawings and other days featured collages. Strong said she spent at least an hour working on the journal every day.

She initially undertook the project for herself because they are known to increase one’s personal joy, but after showing it to a friend she was encouraged to put the entire work on display. Since early this year, Strong has been preparing the exhibit and all 365 pieces will be on display. Prints of some of the works will be available for sale.

Strong said while she has been preoccupied with getting the show ready for its debut, she is ready to tackle a similar project.

“I’m going to start another project like this soon because doing it every day made me feel joyful,” she said.

On Sept. 19 at 3 p.m., Strong will be talking about her project at the museum. For more information about the show, visit www.bigforkmuseum.org.

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