SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

January 2, 2014

Pink Chair Project helped daughter cope with grief

By Will Broaddus
Staff writer

---- — The first time Lynne Schulte painted a pink, plastic Adirondack chair, she was paying a debt.

“I was up in Cushing, Maine, and I was in pretty rough shape,” Schulte said. “My mother passed in 2011, June 5. I had one day when I got back from her funeral to unpack and go off to a planned painting trip. But I had promised somebody a painting in exchange for visiting their house.”

Schulte started to paint the house she was staying in, which had pink shutters, where a pink plastic chair had been left outdoors.

“My mother would love that — that was her favorite color — so I put the chair in the painting,” she said.

That choice released emotions that carried through to November, eventually leaving Schulte with 22 paintings of the same pink chair. On Saturday, Jan. 5, at Abbot Public Library in Marblehead, she will discuss what became the Pink Chair Project.

“I really felt her presence in the chair,” she said. “It really took me aback, but it was very strong.”

After fulfilling her obligation to the homeowner, Schulte started to paint the chair in different settings for her siblings, until eventually she had a show’s worth of art.

“The ideas just kept coming,” she said. “They taught me something about my mother, or about myself or about our relationship.”

Schulte, who lives in Georgetown, carried the chair to different sites that usually held some strong association with her mother, then selected spots in which to paint it.

“We took that chair with us on vacation that summer,” she said. “We went to Rochester, N.Y., her hometown, and put it in places important to her — Rochester Park and my sister’s backyard.

“We also took it to Canada and took photos in Kingston, at Desert Lake resort. By then, we were calling the chair ‘Mom.’”

The pink chair in the paintings is always empty and is usually pointing at the ocean or a field full of flowers.

While it looks like a nice place to relax, the chair also seems to be a figure in its own right, someone with whom we are sharing the view.

Making the paintings was a therapeutic process for Schulte.

“I didn’t know how to deal with losing my mother,” she said. “It’s almost like she showed me the way to deal with it, through her presence.”

Schulte describes the decisions she made about where to set the chair in stories that are exhibited with the paintings. Her talk in Marblehead will go over these background stories in a PowerPoint presentation.

“Even if you’ve seen and read every story, you get something different out of listening to it,” Schulte said.

The paintings were also installed at a rotating exhibition gallery at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center.

“Because of the pink, they liked the breast cancer association,” Schulte said.

When the Pink Chair Project was first exhibited, at Topsfield Public Library, a librarian told her she had never seen such a strong response from viewers.

Since then, they have also been exhibited in New York State and Maine, and they will be traveling to New Hampshire.

The paintings are accompanied by interactive elements that allow visitors to share their reactions to the works.

“I place a chair and table and remembrance book where people can record things,” Schulte said. “There’s a board where people can become part of the show and put a sticky note up. They’re four or five deep in some places.”

Schulte has been an art educator all her life, most recently as an administrator in Waltham and Cambridge public schools. Before that, she taught art in high schools in Maryland and Vermont. While she was working, she painted mostly in the summers, but she has been able to devote more time to her work since retiring three years ago.

She has never experienced anything like the reaction her pink chair paintings have provoked, but she believes it is based in universal experience.

“Everybody has lost somebody,” she said. “Everybody. It touches them somehow. It’s really been an amazing experience.”

THE PINK CHAIR PROJECT What: Artist's talk and exhibition When: Sunday, Jan. 5, 2 to 4 p.m. Where: Abbot Public Library, 235 Pleasant St., Marblehead Information: Abbot Public Library, 781-631-1481, or visit www.lynneschulte.com Admission: Free