- Associated Press - Sunday, August 27, 2017

VICTORIA, Texas (AP) - A painted bridge spanning a forest pond of brushstrokes lends peace and meaning to its creator, Walter Franklin.

“The bridge symbolizes crossing over into a different area, and crossing over the water is crossing the unknown,” said Franklin, examining one painting of many inside his Victoria home.

The Victoria Advocate reports after a thoughtful pause, Franklin, 54, added, “When you’re not sure what you want to do and you have no direction, you don’t make yourself afraid of trying. You just jump.”

In 2016, on a whim, the former sculptor began frenziedly painting mountain vistas, tree-lined riverbanks and other landscapes on the walls of his home. After the completion of each painting, which acts as a kind of therapy, he nailed frames around them. He is currently trying his hand at portraits.

The sudden inspiration came six years after a tumor removal operation left him with serious neurological and physiological disorders, including numbness on one side of his body, periodic pains along his arm and occasional bouts of disorganized thinking, he said.

“I think 50 different things at one time,” he said. “It’s very hard to focus.”

A Victoria physician said Franklin’s surgery may have left him with a blessing.

The rediscovered creativity could be the result of his brain healing from damage suffered during that surgery, said Tim Holcomb, a Victoria physician with postgraduate studies in neurology.

Doctors initially gave Franklin slim chances for survival after finding the tumor during a routine X-ray following a fall in his bathroom.

“They told me to go home and take care of the last things I needed to do,” Franklin said.

Mary Patterson remembers a Franklin before the discovery of his tumor.

Although the 57-year-old neighbor said her friend has always had a special personality, she began noticing surprising changes after his surgery.

“After the tumor, that’s when that talent came - the painting,” she said.

Patterson said she met Franklin about 2001 when she began working as a cashier at Walgreens, where he and his now-passed mother often shopped.

After his surgery, Franklin’s ensuing artistic spurt was hardly the only change he experienced, she said.

After the surgery, he became more intuitive, perceptive and empathic.

“It changed him,” she said. “He would tell me stuff that was like, ‘How did you know I needed to hear that?’”

When she agonizingly weighed changing jobs in 2013, Franklin gave her a drawing of a serene tropical beach.

On the back was a personal message from Franklin that partially read, “Trust does sometimes bring with it great reward.”

“I’m crying right now,” she said. “That really touched me back then, and I’m having the feelings again reading it.”

With Franklin’s encouragement, she left her job at Walgreens for a career in insurance.

“It was the right thing to do,” she said.

Increased emotional sensitivity, artistic aptitude and creativity can result from brain surgeries, Holcomb said.

“It sounds like to me, in his healing process, his right brain has become more awakened,” Holcomb said. The right hemisphere of the brain is connected to art, creativity and intuition, he said.

Although Franklin’s tumor and surgery could have damaged neurological functions, he said a neurobiological concept known as “neuroplasticity” could mean his brain’s right hemisphere is recovering to the point of surpassing its previous abilities.

“Nerves in the brain can develop branches and neurological function, which gives hope to many,” Holcomb said. “In the past, we thought if you had a brain injury, it could only get worse from there.”

For Bill Bauer, a 71-year-old former Victoria High School art teacher, the memory of Franklin’s earliest artistic attempts rings clear across the decades. The former student said he still thinks of Bauer as a mentor.

In the 1980s, when Franklin began studying in his art class, the student quickly caught Bauer’s eye.

“He was unique. That’s the word. Walter was a unique individual,” said Bauer, chuckling mid-memory.

Then, Franklin had not discovered painting and instead devoted his creative energies to metal and clay sculpture.

“He was very creative,” Bauer said. “He took to the clay.”

Franklin’s boundless enthusiasm and personality took him far, the teacher said. In 1981, his sculptures were accepted into a juried art show in Houston.

“They were mostly contemporary, abstract, nonobjective,” he said.

But after those early successes, Franklin lost track of his creative powers.

An art scholarship slipped through his fingers after he missed application deadlines.

Instead, he began working in construction in a variety of fields. Decades passed, and memories faded.

Until one day in 2010 when a routine X-ray found a lump in his brain and fate gave him another shot at making art.


Information from: The Victoria Advocate, https://www.victoriaadvocate.com

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