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Artist and patient are connected by portraits of hope on display at Pardee Cancer Center

Artist Kelly Chelena (left) and cancer patient Pam McLaughlin talk about the impact of the art display for folks at Pardee Cancer Center. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

A Hendersonville art collection appeals to an audience in desperate need of color, light and hope.

Ten regional artists have work inside the Pardee Cancer Center, but few get to see the impact of their work.

"I just paint what I feel," says Kelly Chelena, who just goes with the flow when inspiration strikes in her downtown Hendersonville studio. "A lot of these nature-inspired paintings, it's just for the beauty of it."

Sometimes, her abstract approach resonates with people with a whole new appreciation for art.

Admirers like Pam McLaughlin.

"Art to me is so personal," she says. "I can stare at at a piece of art for a long time and see different things in it."

"I don't paint for a particular audience," explains Chelena. "I just enjoy the process. And that's what this is."

At the cancer center, the creative process intersects with the healing process. In a growing art city, the collection is a revelation.

The artists in the center include Suzanne Camarata Ball, Michael Bauermeister, Kelly Chelena, Carol Beth Icard, Tim Jones, Keith Spencer, Stephen St. Claire, Kate Thayer, Matt Tommey and Cynthia Wilson.

"I think most of them are nature-inspired," Chelena points out.

Chelena doesn't paint with people like McLaughlin in mind. Yet, each stroke strikes a chord.

"I have ovarian cancer, which is a really hard cancer to cure. It just keeps coming back like a bad penny," McLaughlin says.

Pardee now features work from 10 regional artists. They added beauty to McLaughlin's home away from home.

"When you're going for cancer treatment you look for small comforts," she told said.

Chelena has three pieces on display, including "Green Bamboo" and "Southern Sky."

"And this is 'Mountain Picnic,'" Chelena says, showing off one painting. "Little pieces, little leaves, little sticks all come together in an abstract way."

So many of us have been touched by cancer. And this is a huge honor to be involved in this."

What the artists don't experience are vulnerable moments when patients are in awe.

"This is also one of my favorites," McLaughlin says, looking at three panels called "A Walk In The Woods" by Stephen St. Claire. "The first time I ever saw this, I was attached to an IV pole!"

"I saw these panels of trees and it reminded me of when I used to hike around the Carl Sandburg House," she reminisces.

Patients cling to memories as they fight for their lives.

"And as this happens, you start looking for small windows of beauty in your life," McLaughlin said.

Meanwhile, it's a window of opportunity for Chelena.

McLaughlin says "Southern Sky" painted a hopeful picture.

"When I looked at your piece, it reminded me of the shades of blue in this area that I lived in," the patient told the artist.

When cancer takes patients to a dark place, artists have the power to illuminate their lives.

"So, it's really not only art that you create, it's a gift that adds to our outlook on life," McLaughlin says.

"Wonderful, wonderful," Chelena responds.

That brush with reality gives Chelena even more inspiration. She's made her mark in a place where her work is priceless.

"It couldn't be at a better place for a more appreciative audience," McLaughlin says.

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