An Artist's Response to Growing Up With Congenital Scoliosis

In Evelyn Berde’s words, “I have always felt that art has the ability to lift us out of one place and take us to another.”

Evelyn is an artist, a teacher, a healer, and a patient herself. Born with congenital scoliosis in 1950, she spent many years in and out of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), confined to her bed for months at a time. Her art is informed by her experience living with a “deformity”, as it was referred to in those times, as well as by her childhood growing up in the old “West End” of Boston, a low-income but culturally rich neighborhood close to MGH and the Charles River which was razed in the late 1950s, displacing many residents, and replaced by residential high rises which still stand today.

Evelyn’s childhood was marked by sadness—alcoholism in her family, the loss of her nine year old brother when she was six, not to mention her own medical condition—but it was also full of beauty, love and color. Her artwork portrays this complexity and texture.

Today, she is a wife, mother to two grown children, an art teacher and therapist as well as an extraordinary storyteller. She weaves her life stories into her art with skill and grace, and she reminds us all that we have the power within us to transform our experiences. “It’s all in you”, she says. “It’s hard to do, and it takes energy, but if you can focus on something that will bring you joy, even in the midst of tremendous sorrow and pain, it can shift everything.” 

You can listen to Evelyn talk about more of her paintings, and view the original publication of this piece on WBUR’s Commonhealth Blog here.

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