Katelyn Mariah of Merriam Park has been a believer in the healing power of art for quite some time. And at no time was that truer than after her recovery from five heart attacks and open-heart surgery.

Fourteen of the 110 paintings she completed as part of her healing process are being displayed at Magus Books, 1848 Central Ave. NE., Minneapolis. Titled “Resilient Heart,” the show will have its grand opening from 3:30-5:30 p.m. Friday, July 22, and remain on display through the end of September.

Mariah said her hope is that the show will provide a source of healing for people who might be suffering in one way or another—from dealing with COVID-19 to social justice concerns.

katelyn mariah
Merriam Park artist Katelyn Mariah poses with three paintings from her “Resilient Heart” series that chronicle her healing after five heart attacks. Photo by Brad Stauffer

“We’ve all had our hearts broken in one way or another over the last 2-1/2 years,” she said. “I hope my paintings will touch people in a way that helps them recover. I’ve used art to heal myself for a long, long time.”

Mariah was acutely aware of art as a healing force during her 25-year career as a psychologist. Her practice included a focus on trauma in the young where she employed the use of sand therapy among other art forms. She has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Minnesota, studied at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and earned a postgraduate  degree in art therapy and psychology from Saint Mary’s University.

“I was drawn to art therapy the first time I heard about it,” Mariah said. “I got sick when I was in my mid-30s and almost died. It was after that when I discovered I could tap into something higher than myself and paint what came to me. It was like a latent talent got activated.”

“I’ve always been attracted to what’s called ‘primitive’ or ‘outsider’ art,” Mariah said. “Henri Rousseau is an example. Ernst Fuchs is another painter in the style that I admire.”

Mariah, who grew up in Highland Park, said she wanted to be an artist since she was 5 years old. “I wasn’t very good, but I liked to draw, mostly animals and nature,” she said. “I painted in high school and knew it had a positive impact on me. I built a studio in my parent’s basement and that felt like a sanctuary to me.”

She now has two adult children and two grandchildren, and a studio in her Merriam Park home where she pursues her interest in visionary art through watercolor and India ink.

“I’ve always been attracted to what’s called ‘primitive’ or ‘outsider’ art,” Mariah said. “Henri Rousseau is an example. Ernst Fuchs is another painter in the style that I admire.”

Mariah went on to study with the well-known American visionary painter Philip Rubinov-Jacobson through four-month seminars abroad. She travelled to Austria in 2012, Bali in 2014, Spain in 2015 and Austria again in 2016.

She suffered her first heart attack at home in 2016, and another one during the trip to Austria later that year. At the time, she was working on an image of the Goddess Tanit from Ibiza, Spain.“I was in the middle of painting when I was rushed to the hospital,” she said.

Mariah said her first three heart attacks happened about every four months. She had two more, followed by open-heart surgery in October 2017.

Her healing and painting as part of the heart series continued into 2019. Of special meaning to Mariah is a painting that includes the image of DNA rising from a heart.

“I painted it before I even knew I was having surgery,” she said. “My art is often prophetic like that. The DNA was twisted exactly the same as my bypass. It was telling me that I was going to be OK and that was really comforting.”

Upcoming ‘Resilient Heart’ show

Among the works in her upcoming show are “Pearls of My Heart,” “Compass of the Heart” and “Butterflies of the Heart.” She accompanies her paintings with poetic and explanatory narratives. She has also compile the first 30 or so paintings in her book Resilient Heart Art: The Healing Power of Art (Mystick Creek Publishing, 2018).

“I’d journal about them, including some dialogue about what the painting did for me, the symbolism,” she said. “I might do a book of all of the paintings at some point, attaching my story to it.

“I’ve been in the process of healing for six years,” Mariah continued. “I’m not the person I was in 2016. I had things that needed to heal around my heart, emotionally. That was some of the discovery that came through the paintings. I opened my heart and I’m more present, and those are huge gifts.”

Since finishing her heart series, Mariah has painted watercolors depicting COVID-19 and George Floyd. “They came from a sense of trauma and they turned into something healing, and then that happened for me, too,” she said. “It’s like a phoenix rising—you see yourself coming out of chaos.”

Recently, she has taken a course on herbal medicine and has begun botanical paintings. “I’m probably going to put those into a book, too,” said Mariah, who has an expansive herb garden in her backyard. “I want to make a journal about growing herbs so people can teach themselves.”

Beyond botanicals, Mariah said, she is just waiting for further inspiration. “When it happens, I’ll go right to my studio,” she said. “I won’t have to go far to get started.”

— Anne Murphy


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