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Art therapists pedal into town and bring out meaning

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[September 19, 2014]  LINCOLN - On a dark and stormy Monday afternoon, Holly Wherry and Robert Caswell rode their bicycles into Lincoln. The duo is on a mission. Beginning in Holly’s hometown of Lime Springs, Iowa, the couple plan to end their adventure in Robert’s hometown of New Orleans, with the mission of bringing art to the communities they visit along the way, and to spread the concept of art therapy.

Art therapy is one of the tools that professionals can use to help people deal with their emotional difficulties. It is helpful when an adult or child cannot express their feelings verbally. They are encouraged to do art under the guidance of certified art therapist who helps their client interpret what they put on paper.

Starting on August 22, the duo began their bicycle trek, but made a big detour to Chicago to visit friends, classmates and professors at the Art Institute of Chicago. Now they are edging closer to the Mississippi River on Route 66, and a more direct route to the Crescent City. Calling themselves the “Art Therapy Pedalers,” Holly and Robert hope to encourage people they meet along the way to think about art, and try their hand at making art. “Everyone is an artist, and making art feels good,” said Robert.

Holly and Robert met while working on their master degrees in art therapy at the Art Institute of Chicago. “I had been a classroom teacher in New York City for three years, but knew I wanted to try something different,” said Holly. She and Robert were both doing art before attending the Art Institute, so combing their love of art with therapy and counseling seemed a natural progression for them.

After graduating, they moved to New Orleans and began using their art therapy knowledge to assist the residents coping with the post Hurricane Katrina stress. After spending six years in New Orleans, they moved to India for a year to teach art to children and women. “There is a lack of personal expression among women in India, and we hoped our art therapy backgrounds could help them express their feelings,” said Holly.

After moving back home from India, Robert and Holly came up with the concept of their Iowa to New Orleans art adventure. They did a crowd sourcing appeal on ‘Kick Starter’ and were successful in achieving their goal.

With two bicycles, one of which pulls their “treasure chest” of art supplies in a bike trailer, the two set out on their journey. They are deliberately sticking to country roads and small towns. “Small towns seem to have less access to art,” said Robert. “The people we have met have been very generous and welcoming,” he added.

Their travels through small town America has also left them with a more flexible schedule. Sometimes they camp in a tent they carry. They have held art workshops in shelters at camp grounds for the children of fellow travelers, one during a downpour. More often, they find other long distance bike riders who are willing to share their homes and provide a soft bed, a meal, and a hot shower. There is even a website that they check called that matches cross-country bicycle riders with those willing to host them. That is what they are doing in Lincoln.

During a stop in Bloomington at a bicycle shop to hold an art making session, a man they met just happened to mention that they should stop in Lincoln at the Lincoln Art Institute.

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After a harrowing ride from Bloomington to Lincoln in a thunderstorm, and a stop for shelter at the Lawndale grain elevator, the two arrived at the Lincoln Art Institute on the square in Lincoln. LAI artistic director Moses Pinkerton welcomed them, and insisted they bring their bikes into the art gallery.

After a moment to relax and shed their rain gear, Holly and Robert held a two hour art fest with the folks who had gathered. Holly gathered the children around her to make and discuss art, while Robert encouraged the adults to grab art supplies and get started on anything they wanted to make.

Art supplies were dug out of the “treasure chest” and passed around. As each person worked on their art, Robert and Holly asked questions about what the person had in mind for their creation.

In his quiet and laid back manner, Robert elicited ideas from the participants about the meaning of the art they were creating, many of those ideas surprising the budding artists. The phrase “I never thought of that” was heard more than once. It was an example of art therapy in action.

One of the unique aspects of the “Art Therapy Pedalers” trip is the rolling mural that Holly and Robert are creating during the trip. At each stop, they have people add a personal touch to a long scroll that documents in art their trip. The rolling mural will be displayed in New Orleans. Moses Pinkerton drew a rendering of his “Cow in the Corn” sculpture that is in the Busby-Turner Park along Sangamon Street in Lincoln.

The Art Therapy Pedalers have a Face Book page and a website so the people they meet along the way can keep up with their travels. These Pied Pipers of art hope to make their destination by November. But as they both admit, weather and must do side trips to meet interesting people and make art with them, as they did at the Lincoln Art Institute, keep them flexible.

Holly Wherry and Robert Caswell began their travels again on Tuesday departing Lincoln under sunny skies.


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Art Therapy Pedalers

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