Nancy Collier's mother was weak, depressed and near death after a long bout with cancer when her daughter asked what one thing she had always wanted to do.
"This frail old woman said she had always wanted to play the drums, so I borrowed a set from the neighbor boy, and we had a jam session after dinner," Collier said. "She was bald from the chemotherapy and had lost 80 pounds, but she was so envigorated she looked 20 years younger. It was 2 a.m. before she said she was starting to get a little tired."When she saw the dignity, meaning and laughter that music brought to her mother's last days, Collier said she decided to stop teaching school to make art therapy her life's work. She started her business 12 years ago, and in 1987 moved it from Connecticut to Provo and named it New Outlook Associates.
She helps people who have been released from hospitals or nursing homes who have lost their self-esteem or motivation. Her patients choose an art project, and Collier helps them complete it.
"I had one patient with Parkinson's disease who couldn't lift a spoon to his mouth, but who had always wanted to paint. He was so motivated, eventually he was holding a paint brush and painting for two hours at a time." (Other patients who cannot control brushes are encouraged to paint with broccoli, celery, pinecones or tongue depressors.)
One young patient was bored and angry because he had to stay in bed. Collier helped him make shadow puppets and got him a light so he could project plays on the wall. His attitude improved and his recovery time was shorter than expected, she said.
Sometimes obstacles are emotional as well as physical.
"You'd be surprised how some people treat their elderly. I visited one 96-year-old whose family told her every day to die soon. The son's new wife said, `Make sure you die today; really concentrate. We need the room.' "
Even in less extreme cases, elderly patients may feel they are a burden to their families, which lowers their self-worth. And patients of all ages suffer low self-esteem after an accident, Collier said. Completing a creative project will boost their esteem, thus the quality of their lives, she added.
One of Collier's most intimidating patients was an elderly Connecticut man who had been badly disfigured in an explosion.
"He lived in a cabin behind his son's house and would never go out. His son warned me it would be a difficult case."
The man ordered her out of the cabin, said she had no right to be there and threatened to call the police.
"I was trying to think of a way to stay in the house, so I started doing the dishes. He was amazed."
The man decided this strange woman could stay, and Collier told him she knew he had been a builder. Had he ever thought of designing his own house? He dismissed the idea, saying the project was too big. She countered with a suggestion that he design very small houses.
"I brought him wood scraps from area cabinet makers, and he designed bird houses and feeders - tiny Alpine houses, Victorian houses and ranch houses."
He soon turned the hobby into a business and now leaves his cabin to attend builders' association meetings. His neighbors fight over who has the best bird house or feeder, Collier said.
When she and Hero (her border collie, a "pet therapist" who works for an occasional bone) are not visiting patients, Collier teaches art to blind students in the Provo School District and to paralyzed patients at the Western Rehabilitation Center in Orem.
Although she said she would hate to give up those jobs, Collier said she hopes to attract funding and donations that would allow her to work full-time with homebound patients and to accept patients who, even on a sliding scale, cannot afford to pay for her services. She also wants to train other therapists in her techniques.
"A person needs a will to live; something to give purpose, dignity and emotional health. Our emblem is a butterfly. My goal is to help people spread their wings."
For more information on New Outlook, call 373-0811.