- Associated Press - Saturday, January 25, 2014

GREELEY, Colo. (AP) - When doctors told Jessica Forrestal’s father that he was going to die before his 60th birthday, he told Jessica during one of their first talks afterward that he had no regrets.

Lyle Nash lived, even after the mysterious cancer that doctors still can’t name crumbled a piece of his spine. But the conversation stuck with her.

Forrestal went to college to be an artist but had worked as a teacher for the last seven years because it was a more practical job. She loved her students and liked the steady income, but the time it kept her from being the artist she wanted to be.

Then her dad was diagnosed. Doctors initially told him after his fall diagnosis that he’d better enjoy the holidays because they would be his last.

“Nothing is guaranteed,” Forrestal said. “If you want to do something, you need to do it as soon as possible because you don’t know when you’ll get the chance again.”

Forrestal, now 30, said that Friday while standing in the middle of the Oak Room Gallery on the campus of the University of Northern Colorado, where she was making final preparations for her display, “New Normal: A Journey.”

The stark, raw, yet beautiful pieces inside reflect the different stages of her father’s battle with cancer. They represent her new normal as well as his.

She’s a graduate student who will receive her master’s degree this spring. UNC tailored the degree to fit her dreams. She wants to be an artist who shows her work, and sells it, in galleries.

Her parents already had found ways to cope. Though he owned a computer consulting business, her father had a degree in music as an opera singer, and he used that background to learn how to play the mandolin, the Greeley Tribune reported (http://tinyurl.com/k98b9pq).

Her parents also took a weaving class together. A loom now takes up much of their kitchen in their Ridgeway home.

She began working on her display with paintings on wood panels inspired by her father’s first surgery, which took place just a couple weeks after his diagnosis. Doctors removed a vertebrae ravaged by cancer and left him with 33 staples in his back. Forrestal couldn’t get the image out of her head. She created 42 pieces and, when she would show them, she insisted they were shown as a group because, as she said, it stuck with viewers more, the way her Dad’s scarecrow-like backside stuck with her. It was, as she put it, more “in your face” when they were all together.

She’s since created close to 60 pieces, and they vary from photos to paintings to mixed-media using graphite, wire, fiber, thread, and silicone. She’s stitched together paper to show the fragility of flesh and pulled threads across a fleshy, red structure to show the chaotic nature of the cancer. She named that last image, the one she calls the most disturbing in her display, “It Could Be Worse.”

Much of the artwork addresses the physical and psychological impacts of the disease, she said, and represent the grief over the loss of your current life but also celebrates the reconstruction of the new life you are about to lead after a tragedy.

She once insisted that galleries show her collection as a unit, no matter how large it grew. But her display at UNC shows about a third of it.

She’ll even sell some of the pieces now. She’s learned how to let go.

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