Art is used as a healing source HeArt Therapy session conducted by Shirley artist Sheila Thomas. (Contributed - Lorrie Beauchamp)

Art is used as a healing source HeArt Therapy session conducted by Shirley artist Sheila Thomas. (Contributed - Lorrie Beauchamp)

A creative ‘thanks’ to Vancouver Island’s essential workers

Artist Sheila Thomas creates therapy art session for workers on pandemic’s frontlines

Lorrie Beauchamp | Contributed

Essential workers – from doctors and nurses to retail and warehouse staff – have been the heroes on the frontline of the global COVID-19 pandemic since early 2020, going strong and without a break in more than 18 months.

Local artist Sheila Thomas, owner and occupant of the Sheels on Wheels travelling art bus, came up with her creative way to say thanks to these essential workers. For the past few months, she has been conducting HeArt Therapy painting sessions offered free of charge to groups of frontline workers.

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As a part-time community support worker, Thomas understands the exhaustion that comes from being a compassionate care provider.

“I wanted to give these people the gift of time and creativity – literally an empty canvass – to express their emotions, play with colours, and relax with their colleagues,” she said.

Each HeArt Therapy session comprises four hours of relaxed painting in an idyllic outdoor setting, weather permitting, and under Thomas’ gentle and entertaining tutelage.

The first session took place on May 30 with a small group of caregivers from a care home in Victoria.

Participants were treated to a lively lecture on “left brain/right brain” influences and then given the freedom to experiment with a variety of spray paints, stencils, acrylics and other sundry items in a unique toolkit, all supplied by the SheelsOnWheels studio and thanks to the generosity of the program’s first sponsor, Malahat Farm near Shirley.

Over lunch, the small group of essential workers talked about their experiences over the past year; they had just attended the funeral of a resident and were grateful for an opportunity to share their collective grief.

Each of them was impacted by COVID in differing ways: isolating from their families, worrying about family members overseas, and dealing with the added pressure of loneliness among their residents, who were cut off from visits to and from loved ones.

Two more sponsors have since stepped up to support additional HeArt Therapy sessions, and Thomas welcomes all enquiries. Sponsorship covers the materials required for a maximum of five participants; Thomas is happy to donate her time and secure an appropriate location. Interested companies or individuals can go online to for more details.

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