Art as a form of self care and mental well-being now on display

By: 
Jarrod Schoenecker

Jarrod Schoenecker photo

Joe Deutsch sits in front of some of the pieces of art that he has created over the years, much as a form of therapy.

As we close out Mental Health Awareness Month, a very personal collection of various mediums of art is on display at the Arts and Heritage Center in Montgomery. Joe Deutsch’s collection of art, never intended to be in any sort of gallery or on display, found its way to the center by means of knowing the president of the board of directors for the Arts and Heritage Center, Maureen Gunderson. Gunderson suggested that he should display his art, knowing his story with it. Gunderson’s husband, Deutsch’s high school shop teacher, also encouraged him.

Deutsch has been going through stage IV colon cancer, discovered in 2023, that has metastasized into his liver. “If there is one thing I can tell you, go get a colonoscopy,” he says. He holds a lot of hope for his outcome and future though, much of that may be attributed to finding art as a form of therapy.

“A lot of the art is surrounding mental health and what has helped me through,” said Deutsch. The display includes collages, paintings, drawings, a little bit of metal work, and woodwork. This includes some functional pieces, such as a wood and glass display cabinet and a well-used 16-foot canoe that he built.

The past 18 years Deutsch has been a shop teacher, currently at Prior Lake and previously in Belle Plaine. He is a 41-year-old native of Elko New Market, graduating from high school in Lakeville, and holds an undergraduate degree in the industrial arts and a masters in education.

These are certainly seen in the influences of his work. “I feel like I have been doing this my whole life, art. The creative process, not necessarily for therapy,” said Deutsch. He says he has always liked the creative process of building things in one form or another, such as in his twenties he said it was building pieces of furniture.

Prior to when he was diagnosed with colon cancer though, Deutsch said that mentally he knew he needed some sort of additional help for his mental well-being. He sought out professional help and one of the things they suggested to him was to give art therapy a try through Prairie Care, where they had a licensed art therapist.

Deutsch started attending art therapy in 2021 and found some pathways to peace and dealing with what he was going through....

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...He shared his darkest piece, a collage with a mountainous scene and colorful bottom. “It’s my most vulnerable piece. It’s about death and dying,” said Deutsch. There is also one collage he created that features butterflies that he said “represents how fragile life is.”

Most of the pieces on display were stored in a drawer or a box. However, Deutsch says, “I’m pretty excited about this show. Anything I can do to raise and normalize mental health awareness is good.”

Deutsch’s artwork will be on display through July 6 during normal operating hours at the Arts and Heritage Center, Thursday and Friday from 2-5 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon. Admission to the center is free.

If you are struggling and think you may need help, help is available for you. You can call the National Alliance on Mental Illness toll free at 1-800-950-6264 or text “helpline” to 62640, Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. If you are experiencing a crisis, you can call or text 988 at anytime to help find the support you need. Help is available, and it is okay to seek it out.

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