Science, art combine for cancer fundraiser

Union Leader Correspondent
December 06. 2013 8:59PM
Londonderry High School art teachers Michelle Dyson, Mimi Johnson, Suzanne Hjelm and Kelly Halstead have joined forces with a half-dozen students to create a series of paintings for display at the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Natick, Mass., headquarters. Johnson, who has been raising funds for the organization since her sister's 2012 diagnosis, said she plans to produce cards with the paintings' images to benefit cancer research. (APRIL GUILMET/Union Leader Correspondent)

CUTLINE 2 (0028) Microscopic images of cancer cells inspired these paintings by Londonderry High School art teachers Michelle Dyson and Mimi Johnson. The paintings will be hung on the walls at the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Natick, Mass. headquarters and will also be made into cards that will be sold to benefit cancer research. PHOTOS BY APRIL GUILMET

LONDONDERRY — For those with a passion for painting, beauty can be found in the most unlikely places.

For Londonderry High School Art Teacher Mimi Johnson, inspiration came in the form of microscopic images — images Johnson first encountered while sitting in the waiting room at Dana Farber Cancer Center in Boston.
Londonderry High School junior Sophia Simard works on a painting inspired by cancer cells. APRIL GUILMET 

Johnson, whose older sister Martha Sullivan is battling leukemia, said it was there that she noticed some oversized photographs depicting various blood cancers hanging on the wall.

Intrigued, Johnson began researching the images further on the Internet.

"Being an artist, I discovered that each image looked like an abstract painting," she said.

Following Sullivan's July 2012 diagnosis, Johnson has been working hard to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, with plenty of help from her students and colleagues.

In September, Johnson and 27 of her friends and relatives participated in the Light The Night fundraising walk in Wakefield, Mass. The team raised more than $1,200 for cancer research, with a generous portion of those funds coming from Johnson's friends at Londonderry High School.

When Johnson learned that the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Natick, Mass.-based headquarters was in need of art to grace its walls, Johnson's thoughts again returned to the images she'd first seen at Dana Farber and she immediately began working on colorful paintings inspired by cancer cells.

At Johnson's urging, fellow teachers Suzanne Hjelm, Kelly Halstead and Michelle Dyson began working on some paintings of their own.

Soon, several of their students began asking about the paintings, wondering if they might lend a helping hand.

In recent weeks, student artists Cooper Binette, Karissa Ellard, Hailey Angione, Anna Sheveskeyev, Sophia Simard and Rachael O'Connor have all been spending their lunch hours in the art room, working on paintings for the cause.

Simard, a junior, painted her cancer cells in bold hues of lavender and magenta, set against a stark, black background.

"I knew right away I wanted in on this project," said Simard, who noted a family member had battled cancer so the project hit pretty close to home.

"Besides, I just love to paint," she added with a grin.

Across the room Ellard and Angione were working on paintings of their own.

"After seeing what these teachers were doing, it was kind of a domino effect for us," said Ellard, a senior.

Johnson, who donated her bone marrow to her sister just over a year ago, said Sullivan's bravery continues to inspire her.

"I'm happy to say she's doing just fantastic," Johnson added. "We've been very lucky that treatment options have come so far. Because if this happened 15 years ago, we might have had a different outcome."

Sullivan and her teammates are currently planning for next year's walk. She's hoping to double last year's donations.

Indeed, plans for one fundraiser are already in the works.

The series of paintings will be photographed and made into postcards, which will, in turn, be sold to raise money for the cause.

"The colors and images just came out so striking," Johnson said. "It's something horrible, something devastating, but we've all made it into something that's beautiful."

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