After losing strength in her arms and legs in her early 30s from a neuromuscular disease, Kathy Q. Parks fell into a depression. “I couldn’t lift my legs to go upstairs. How was I going to take care of my children?” The normally physically active Arizona native, who studied physical education and health at the University of Arizona, remembered how art mesmerized her in high school, so she turned to that.
Over time, the use of her legs came back. But it was the rhythmic motion of art that gave her back her hands, starting with the batik she’d remembered from high school, switching to mosaic murals and settling on painting.
Later, working with special needs students as an aide at Chandler’s Hamilton High School, she was teaching them about recycling. Her recycling lesson ultimately spawned a flock of bird sculptures made from the material most abundant in the classroom – plastic bags. She showed the students how to roll the plastic waste into body shapes, bind them with masking tape and create wings from cardboard and legs from wire hangers. The students covered their birds with wet plaster cloth – like making papier-mâché, only stronger. When that dried, the children painted and sealed the sculptures and sold them at a local farmers market. Not only did they learn recycling, Parks says, they also learned art and commerce.
Parks left teaching to become a full-time artist. She now creates her own mixed-media sculptures – mostly animals with whimsical personalities – and abstract acrylics on canvas that exhibit a fantasy-like spirit of the Arizona desert.
To learn more about the artist, visit kathyqparks.com or see her at the Arizona Fine Art Expo (through March 22).